2020 (not travel)

Posted by Patrick Lam on Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Table Of Contents

Wellington sights: Old Bank Arcade, cable car, mural painting on Willis St, National War Memorial, Te Herenga Waka Marae

I split this post into the travel retrospective and the rest of it. Now I have some time to write the rest of it.

Related Work

I wrote a 2019 retrospective last year. Link below to monthly retrospectives.


The thing about writing papers is that there is no upper bound. So, I published 3 papers last year. I would have liked to publish more papers. Could I have? Hard to imagine given the conditions. In principle I should have less time to write papers in 2021 since I have teaching (emergency remote teaching at that). On the other hand there are definitely more projects that made progress last year and that will pay off sometime. Also my lack of child care responsibilities objectively makes it easier for me to have time for research.


I was corresponding with a friend who was talking about his recent adult ADHD diagnosis (really, a surprise to 0 people who know him). Control of attention is definitely not one of the problems that I have. I guess that, thinking about my research output, it’s really not been about solving difficult problems. My contribution tends to be more on execution and exposition. Grants are, in particular, challenging for me.

The most significant professional service this year was being on the OOPSLA Review Committee, with about 20 papers to review and discuss. I wonder whether the lack of in-person meeting means more or less time spent on discussions. It means less time spent on travel for sure (not that this would have been possible this year). I think it just means that, modulo travel, it’s a concentrated burst of time vs a diffuse blob of a bit more time.

Teaching and mentoring

In 2020 I did a bit of prep for teaching in 2021, with some trepidation about how online courses would go. My general feeling about lectures is that it’s a social event which students are used to experiencing and can serve as an advertisement for the material. Students actually learn the material by doing homework on their own time. Yet we should still do our best to present engaging lectures.

I’ve been talking to my grad students weekly or more often despite the time and space difference. I think that’s been working out as well as possible given that there’s a pandemic. It’s been tough for some of them as well.

I’ve also been doing some Long-Term Mentoring with PLMW, where I’ve been matched up with two final-year grad students and a second-year grad student from various institutions, and chatting approximately monthly. I hope that my advice to them is useful. It’s been exciting to follow along on the final-year students’ interview journeys.


Projects on the front burner:

  • test refactoring
  • generating sibling tests
  • analyzing code dependencies plus new masters’ students projects, as yet undefined.

Projects on the back burner (no personnel):

  • const static analysis
  • TrueType analysis
  • climbing-related research

Life goals

I think it’s important to periodically assess whether one’s life is currently meaningful. Reading Overload and interacting closely with people here in Wellington gives me renewed appreciation for my job at Waterloo. As I’ve said before, though, it is, in the end, a job. We do the job because it’s rewarding, both in terms of pay and because we’re social creatures who respond to peer pressure to some extent. In particular I appreciate Waterloo’s students and the wide latitude I have in doing my job, i.e. the lack of micromanagement.

I don’t think it’s ever been a secret that I don’t find Waterloo the most exciting place to live. Sure, it’s “surprisingly non-crappy”. And the LRT and recent bike infrastructure are steps forward that, for instance, Wellington (not that much bigger than Waterloo, but feels tons bigger) could sorely use. Sadly, though, Ontario is topographically lacking. At least there are climbable rocks that are reasonably close, and in fact closer than Wellington’s closest rocks. In normal times, at least, I could get out of town fairly regularly. So I guess it’s the place to stay for the next while.

Region of Waterloo Light Rail

I sometimes try to think about places in Canada which would be better than Waterloo, say for retirement. Montreal is great in many ways, but the health care system is not one of them. Ontario is better. Quebec City is much cheaper. Might be interesting. People are trying out the Maritimes this year, I heard. And there’s Vancouver/Squamish, but that’s super expensive.

Métro Radisson, flying over Mt. Royal, St. John's, Science World in Vancouver, Squamish (with Mt. Garibaldi), Université Laval

It’s hard to move to New Zealand as a retiree. Taiwan might be easier.

Thoughts about NZ society

About New Zealand: Putting aside COVID (at which it has been doing really great), it has all of the problems of normal Western countries. Some less, some more. House prices/rent are out of control. Pedestrian infrastructure sucks. There’s a better electoral system. But MP has said that she feels less culture shock than in Ontario… people work less hard here; or, another way of putting it, people are better at work/life balance. Like, stores aren’t open after 6. Not even at the train station. (Well, there aren’t really trains, but that’s another story). The nature is nice, but Canada has better nature. It’s just more accessible in NZ. Saguenay and the Rockies and northern Quebec are epic really.

I wrote a separate post about racism. That was on the NZ news a few weeks ago with respect to talk radio hosts saying outrageous things about Maori and Maori culture. But it gets backlash at least.


Somehow I did not pick up any new hobbies in 2020. So it was just the same old hobbies. Well, we looked at more birds and took quite a few pictures of them. I put some in the 2020 travel retrospective but here are more.

Black swans and grey duck, variable oystercatcher, wandering albatross (2x), pied shag, Australasian crested grebe


I’ve been doing judo more intensively this year than in the past few years. Why? Yeah, good question. I’m good at it; not pro-level, but also not a n00b. Picked up a bunch of domestic medals this year. New grading syllabus came out, and I’ve been slowly preparing katas for a 5th dan grading. I feel like I’m very lucky to be able to practice these days; so many people can’t. It’s like when I was a kid and my parents said I should finish everything on my plate because poor people in other countries didn’t have food.


I wrote more about climbing in the travel summary since the outdoor rocks require travel unless you are climbing the 10 worthwhile routes at Titahi Bay (per Graeme Dingle: ’the rock here is not always reliable and protection often inadequate’) or the bouldering at Baring Head. I now have a trip to Paynes Ford planned for March.

Hiking (aka tramping in NZ-speak)

Looking through the records, the amount of hiking in 2020 blew away (by far!) the numbers from previous years, even years where I was peakbagging: the total distance I did for the 48 New Hampshire 4000-footers was like 400 miles. It’s more convenient in NZ for sure. Let’s think about hiking from Waterloo. There is the Bruce Trail. But if you want mountains, the closest ones are the Adirondacks, which are 8 hours’ drive (one way) away. Flying can help, but not really for East Coast destinations (e.g. Montreal or Boston and then 2 hours’ drive); otherwise it’s 4 hours to Calgary and historically at least $500 per person (though right now $300—alas, during a pandemic), which is hard to justify for a weekend.

No deathmarches. A deathmarch is like 20 miles and significant elevation (list of NH deathmarches). Topped out at like 23km and 1110m of elevation gain in town, but that included some sidewalks, so a bit easier. Going to 20 miles would realistically be another 3-4 hours of hiking. The injured ankle was feeling sore after some of the big days. It’s certainly gotten a lot better since January 2020 and certainly October 2019, but is not as good as new.

MP has also been getting more into hiking. The Great Walks are a bit of a gateway to more serious hikes. We’ve got some tougher ones lined up for 2021. Not having to carry a tent is nice, although on those tougher hikes it might be prudent to have shelter. Should practice shelter setup. In general I’ll need more stuff on more committing hikes; my pack is pretty minimal for Great Walks.

Other hiking pictures from 2020: Roy's Peak, Shag @ Ulva Island, @ Field Hut, Taranaki Summit Hoarfrost, @ Mount Fyffe