January: Back to School, and Hump Ridge

Posted by Patrick Lam on Sunday, February 7, 2021

Table Of Contents

Back to school! Classes started on January 11 and that’s been keeping me busy this month. More about that below. We flew into Wellington on both January 1 and February 1, with a flight from Wellington to Queenstown on January 29.

Lead with the cats! Bea Bea and Sylvester. Also flowers.

Yet more NZ

Well, just a bit more. Except for January 1 and the last 3 days, within 10km of our place in Wellington. We did take the ferry across the harbour to Days Bay and biked to the Pencarrow Lighthouse at one point. The other trip was to the edge of Fiordland National Park by Te Waewae Bay, to hike the Tuatapere Hump Ridge Track.

Pencarrow Lighthouse

Pictures: Not quite negative progress, and got through the thousands of albatross pictures (I only posted 87!) and Canterbury pictures in general. Currently behind by:

  • [November] around Auckland / Bay of Islands
  • [November/December] Kepler
  • [December] Routeburn/Milford
  • [December] Dunedin climbing, Silverpeaks
  • [January] Hump Ridge Track

Other events this month:

  • Helping move furniture (payback for receiving help!)

NZ and COVID-19

There was some NZ COVID news, but not much, thankfully. A case of the South African variant turned up in a person who had left managed isolation (aka MIQ) and actually been all around Northland (with one place that I’d been to three months ago, the Fat Camel Cafe), as well as three other people also from the same MIQ facility. Fortunately there seems to have been no onwards transmission, with lots of tests after the case was declared. And people seem to be scanning in to venues more now.

Primary and secondary schools seem to be starting around now and Parliament starts this week, so I guess summer vacation is over. Is it September or August? I don’t know.

No hard news about travel bubbles. I borrowed a book from the library about the Chatham Islands, which are part of NZ itself, with a population of 663.

Vaccine for border workers by the end of the first quarter (supposed to take 3 weeks to vaccinate), and then for the general public in the second half of the year. It seems like NZ is hoping to get Vaccine 2.0 with updates for the new strains. It also seems increasingly unlikely that the borders will open before we have to go back to Canada.

Canada and COVID-19

Prompted by some online discussions, I looked at the numbers again. I’d previously said that Canada (except the Atlantic and territories) rates a D-. But almost all of Europe is really doing quite poorly. Canada’s doing better. Maybe a B- on that curve. But maybe that’s the wrong curve to be on.

I hear that the unhappiness in Canada these days is about vaccine supply. I guess that’ll get better over time and is a race against the B117 strain.

WTF is with Ontario opening again now that the cases are under control and B117 coming? Other places in Canada have shown that Zero Covid is possible.


It felt like summer for a couple of days in January in Wellington. Maybe literally 2. I don’t think we turned on the heating. That was February. Not much rain, though.

A list of new things

  • some hiking maps for Wellington
  • one SMEG knife; tried unsuccessfully to get a second one, but I wasn’t fast enough
  • tried to find someone to clean dust from my CCD (did in February)
  • that’s about it for January! I have been meaning to figure out what hardware I need to buy so that I can expense it, but it just hasn’t gotten to the top of the list.

I don’t think I mentioned this in December, but as I’ve gotten more things to schedule, and whiffed one too many meetings, I’ve started using the Timezone Converter app by Alt Studio NZ to double check times. I’ve used timeanddate.com in the past but it really has too many clicks. The website is still useful for making sure that a meeting is when I think it is: I create the link and send it. But it’s not the thing I reach for first.

When I see a time I always wonder what time zone it’s in. It’s like when I see a dollar sign I’m not sure which kind of dollar I’m talking about.

Here’s my process for scheduling: I click on my calendar to find a time (in NZ time), and then I use the app to convert into time zones of interest. If it’s important, I send a link to the meeting attendees.


With the resumption of teaching, I definitely feel like I’m no longer on sabbatical. To be honest, though, there isn’t that much different aside from teaching. I don’t have as strong an excuse to pass on service opportunities, though I’m still trying to be selective and passing on marginal opportunities.


The term is well under way now: as I write this, reading week is next week. I’m teaching an undergraduate course, ECE 459 Programming for Performance, as well as a graduate course, ECE 750-T5 Static Analysis for Software Engineering.

My ECE 459 co-instructor, Jeff Zarnett, has done an awesome amount of work recording lectures, so now it’s staying on top of Piazza questions and having office hours. This course has over 250 students, and we operate two sections, hence co-instructor. I think it’s well worth considering what level of instructor interaction the students most benefit from. Having one giant section is definitely not best practice, but how do we provide students with value? Like, I don’t want to have two sections just to have two sections.

The graduate course does take more time and is challenging to run online. Shows up really often in my daily logs. It’s a seminar, so we read papers. Students present the papers to the class and then we discuss. (There’s also a project.) I feel like it’s hard to stay on top of students’ engagement with the material, and having to use Teams is challenging too: last week I tried breakout rooms but one of the rooms was just broken (wouldn’t get into “open” state). I’ve been recording intro videos each week presenting the next week’s papers. I also presented a couple of papers which had no presenter. And there’s providing feedback to students. I think academics spend a lot of time providing feedback.

  • posted 3 weekly-intro videos on YouTube for the course so far
  • wrote presentation tips

Anyway, we muddle along as best we can during the pandemic. Things will return to a new normal sometime.


  • Recommended admission for a prospective PhD student
  • Plugging along at a new VUW collaboration with Jens
  • PLMW long-term mentoring continues
  • Pinch-hit SE advising

Bringing back the list of things to write up:

  • Photos: eternally in progress
  • August (Rakuira) trip writeup
  • September (Canterbury) trip writeup
  • Travel philosophy (been in final-drafts form since before the pandemic)
  • Greece recommendations (mostly drafted)
  • November (Northland) trip writeup
  • November-December (Kepler) trip writeup
  • December (Milford/Routeburn) trips writeup

I did write two things: a book review of Overload: How Good Jobs Went Bad and What We Can Do about It and a 2020 retrospective (travel). I’ve been sitting on the overall 2020 retrospective but it needs pictures. I thought I’d better get January out first.

Days with work: 21 (plus a couple of days with minor work), out of 20 work days in January in Ontario. I also had a lot of days where I was sorting through pictures/writing content: 12. Usually that happens in the evenings.


Talked to my students again on 13 days (up one from December), although sometimes it wasn’t strictly my students (e.g. Waterloo SE undergrads).


More reviews: two grant proposals (one for NSERC), turned down one international review which was outside my area of expertise. Wrote two recommendation letters and one support letter for a grant proposal. Campaigned against my being nominated for the Chair Nomination Committee—did not quite pull a General Sherman but close—and managed to avoid that. Some more committees and minor service tasks (eg CS 247 sessional interview).


This month, South Island plus some Wellington destinations.

  • 🚶 Walking distance: 119km (half of December’s total, on the low side compared to 2020 months)
  • 🚲 Biking distance: 116km
  • 🚗 Driving distance: drove 300km, taxis 13km
  • 🚌 Bus distance: 20km (rainy-weather judo practice plus from Eastbourne)
  • ⛴ Boat distance: 12km (across the harbour)
  • 🛩 Plane distance: 1274km, DUD-WLG & WLG-ZQN
Botanical Gardens and Gardens Magic in Wellington. Yes, that's a concert in 2021.

Walks & Bike Rides

OK, so still at 5 Great walks, although Hump Ridge will be somewhat comfortized and made into a Great Walk as well, so that’s 6.

Some views from days 1 and 2 of the Tuatapere Hump Ridge Track, not yet Great.

Other sports

One half-day of climbing at Castle Downs again on the way from Queenstown to Tuatapere. Managed to cruise through (on TR) most of a climb that I had trouble with a few months ago (on lead). Got shut down on another climb. There was supposed to be a chicken head (big knob)!

Pretty regular judo practice: 11 sessions (including some kata. Time to do kata to prepare for June grading.)


  • Flew back from Dunedin, but that was last month’s trip.
  • Flew to Queenstown and then on to Tuatapere for the Hump Ridge Track.
Last day in Dunedin: dinosaur exhibit at Otago Museum, view from the airport, the airport.

Travel planning

A couple of trips coming up:


  • Go Vietnam, Wellington: exceeded expectations for pho.
  • Tui Base Camp, Tuatapere: OK but not the best ribs I’ve had; MP liked the comfort food she ordered (seafood chowder).

Also I baked some Jamaican patties. Yum!

Jamaican patties, food at Harbourside Market, and double rainbow at Wellington Judo Academy.


I think I read The Last Duel by Eric Jager in December. In January:

  • Overload, as discussed above.
  • Keith Woodley. Shorebirds of New Zealand: lots of information about shorebirds that NZ shares with the world.
  • David Attenborough. Journeys to the other side of the world : further adventures of a young naturalist. Wow. Things were different for naturalists in the 1950s. You basically could kidnap a bird and bring it back to your zoo. Except you couldn’t do it through Australia. I have a bunch of other books to read now.


Part of the time I spent on content was on implementing a new gallery slider for these poses, as you can see from the recent posts. I also learned to ProxyJump to ssh directly to my home computer, which is great. And I resolved various sysadmin issues for the OAC website.


Back to work! Doing the best I can from here. Trying to get out as often as I can. Which is pretty often, to be honest.