May: non-teaching term month 1

Posted by Patrick Lam on Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Table Of Contents

I’m grateful for contrasts. After the slog of teaching (yes, rewarding, but still a slog), it’s time for a non-teaching term. I managed to push forward a few tasks this term. Some of them even align with my research goals! I did have some marking of grad class exams at the very beginning of May, but there were only 19 of them to mark.

We had one trip in May, again to Christchurch, for a planned 4 days off-grid, with a little unplanned extension at the end. An enjoyable Victoria Day weekend (yeah, ok, they don’t celebrate that here, but I can! I guess I’ll work on Queen’s Birthday weekend though.)

Reef stars on the Truman track; Punakaiki Pancake Rocks; the Heathcote River in Christchurch; Otira Café, the most interesting café in NZ; the view ascending Mount French

May posts

Ah, yes, no teaching means more time to post stuff. These posts went a bit longer than expected.

  • That Antipodal Life about seasons in Canada vs NZ. I think this is a nice post, but it didn’t get any traction on that social network.
  • Review: Ice Walker is a review of some Canadian content: a book about polar bears (and Inuit hunters thereof) in Canada.
  • Holidays: Canada vs NZ compares holidays in Canada and NZ; I meant to write this first but got sidetracked writing about seasons.

The Christchurch/West Coast trip report will go up in sections. I wrote up one day (the most eventful one?) but it’s not the first one and I realized that it would be weird to post the third day first. The other days should be coming soon.

Life in Wellington

As I write this at the very beginning of June, it’s antipodal winter. It rained a lot yesterday (especially on the South Island, where there was extraordinary flooding) and also mid-May; I was really cold at home today just before leaving, having left the heater off for a bit, even though I was fully dressed and wearing the hut booties. The thermometer indicated just below 20°C but it just felt cold. And yet outside it’s currently 9°C at midnight.

The solstice, or Matariki, is almost here. Today, three weeks out, sunset is at 17:00 and sunrise at 07:37. MetService doesn’t post “sun protection required” times. It’s not really much of a change for my life from a month ago; I’m biking to judo practice in the dark anyway. Golden hour is a bit earlier. Indeed, sunset only gets 2 minutes earlier and is at its earliest starting this weekend. The sun rises 10 minutes later at most. And then we can look forward to longer days. Wellington goes from a minimum of 9h11m36s to a maximum of 15h9m46s.

Timed our trip to the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks for golden hour.

Midnight the morepork is at it again as I write this at 0110. Didn’t hear him for a few weeks but he’s back. Sometimes there’s kaka sounds in the middle of the night, which I didn’t expect. Apparently they’re sometimes active at night. MP went to Zealandia for a night tour and saw one eating at night and looking guilty about it. Wellington has been a great success in terms of bird recovery, aided by predator control and by the Zealandia sanctuary; tui and kaka numbers have more than doubled between 2011 and 2018 as recorded by five-minute bird counts. Morepork are harder to count. It’s really great to live in Wellington.

Windy Wellington; over the cable car tracks; Zealandia with drained reservoir; Lambton Harbour.

Other news

The travel bubbles are open! Well, they were. When there’s no outbreak we can now travel to and from Australia (April 19) and the Cook Islands (May 17). And the main island, Rarotonga, has been super quick with vaccine rollout, having given first doses of the Pfizer vaccine to more than 100% of the registered eligible population in two weeks, (i.e. also including undocumented workers who are there). We hope to go to the Cook Islands in August.

I really am not qualified to write about what’s going on in Australia, but there is definitely another outbreak (or two?) in Melbourne and a lockdown. I won’t speculate about why.

There was a speech about NZ immigration policy but it had no specifics; it just said that NZ would like to attract more highly-skilled workers and fewer “unskilled” workers. The NZ productivity numbers came out recently and I don’t really get them. They show a high number of weekly hours worked. I guess that’s a fact but it’s not consistent with people I know. And then the question of dollars of GDP per worker I just don’t understand.

New Zealand doesn’t have a 24-hour news cycle. It’s pretty much 9 to 5 weekdays for the most part. Sometimes things happen outside office hours and they get picked up, but they’re not routine.

  • There was a budget, which is somewhat incremental but moving in the right direction. New Zealand hasn’t previously had either Employmen t Insurance nor deposit insurance for bank accounts. Still too much money spent on roads and not enough on more reasonable means of transit. The relatively large sums allocated to them are much smaller than to roads. (Shout-out in NZ to the Canadian budget being progressive).
  • The floods in Canterbury are pretty disastrous. For instance, the town of Ashburton (pop 20,200) has been cut off from the nearby city of Christchurch, due to bridge failure.
  • The Australian PM came to Queenstown for a visit.
  • NZ urges China to not violate human rights. China not impressed.

I’ve noticed that visa processing times for my Specific Purpose visa have continued to increase.

  • first visa application (October 2019): 10 working days
  • second application (August 2020): 20 working days
  • third application (April 2021): 30 working days

Interesting trend. At least there won’t be a fourth application until my next sabbatical?

Back home

Now about Ontario and Quebec. Things are looking much better in Ontario; I said that it looked bad for the next 6 weeks last time, but I guess that it’s only been 4 weeks. Indeed, the dose count in Ontario is supposed to reach 70% of the provincial population in a week, no thanks to provincial government planning, and lots of thanks to e.g. Josh Kalpin and the rest of the Vaccine Hunters Canada. Now we have to keep the Delta (formerly B.1.617.2) variant out; unfortunately our current quick tests may not be able to detect it. Delta is particularly problematic because a single dose of the vaccine isn’t quite so effective against it.

COVID-19 vaccine doses administered per 100 people as of June 2, 2021.

Premier Ford looks to be concerned, this time, about re-opening too early (which is good! Hopefully he’s learned!). Quebec is re-opening this summer and has, in this wave, far fewer cases than Ontario.

I tend to believe this Maclean’s piece about Canadian vaccine procurement. It was always going to be challenging since Canada isn’t producing any vaccines domestically and the US isn’t keen to share (though that may be changing soon). So the proportion of doses procured and administered in Canada is quite good. Now let’s do the rest of the world.

And, on a super local front, we had to find a new tenant for our place. Turns out it was super easy this time somehow. Much easier than November 2019, and maybe on par with back in 2016. Not sure why.

Pictures: Did half of December (including Mount Kaukau and one day of Milford, but still have most of that trip to process) and May’s minibreak. Currently behind by:

  • [December] Routeburn/Milford
  • [December] Dunedin climbing, Silverpeaks
  • [January] Hump Ridge Track
  • [February] Jumbo Circuit
  • [February] Tongariro Northern Circuit
  • [April] Avalanche Peak, Mount Somers Track

An ever-increasing amount of my hard drive is taken up by one-day hikes from 2020 that I haven’t processed. Well, it’s not increasing, but it’s not decreasing either. I’d better get to them sometimes. But I guess that puts me about 4 months behind.

This month, I processed:

Sunset at Moturau Hut; view of South Island from Mount Kaukau; kea tongue en route to Iris Burn Hut; chaffinch.

Net gain of pictures on my hard drive: 2G, up to 67G at the moment.


I felt like I got a good mix of research work done this month. Most of my professional work this month was research, except for organizing and running the online Software Engineering graduation celebration.

I wrote last month that we were retargeting from ASE to SCAM. I am in fact writing Doop queries right now for that, and my student David is also continuing to make progress on the Soot static analysis implementation for it. The deadline is coming closer but we’re getting pretty close to having some results. I plan to write more about the experience of writing Doop queries, but it’s been pretty easy once I got past the learning curve.

The other chunk of research-adjacent work I did was some Commuter Challenge stuff, which will hopefully support an eventual NSERC Alliance grant application. Submitted some pull requests to the codebase and responded to an Auckland Transport Request for Information.

I presented a quick talk at the VUW Software and Programming Group meeting about Soot. I spent a couple of days thinking about how to present a “quick introduction to using Soot” and decided to go mostly live-coding for this audience. One hour is going to be somewhat superficial in any case and I didn’t go into any program analysis per se.

I guess the long-postponed SINZ talk is now scheduled for June. I’ll start thinking about it in a week’s time. Hope I don’t get slammed by more deadlines.

Research todo:

  • NSERC Alliance proposal
  • SCAM submission
  • SE retrospective

Mostly the same as last month, just that the SCAM submission deadline got closer. Test refactoring and API surface projects are also making good progress, but no paper targets yet. Maybe by next month we’ll have paper targets for these projects.


Not much new to report here. Did some leftover grading at the beginning of the month, but won’t think about this again until July or August.


These are perhaps more work than is captured than bullet points, but:

  • executed virtual graduation ceremony for SE 2021
  • wrote 3 OOPSLA reviews
Me in borrowed MIT regalia.


May was nice! Talked to students on 18 days, worked on 26 days, with 20 workdays. But it felt like less of a grind. Counting at the granularity of days is pretty coarse-grained and not all days are alike.


Christchurch two months in a row! Sometimes I feel like we often go to the same places many times. But maybe that’s just the same airports. Did add an airport-walked-to in May, CHC. Adding two new airports in July; watch this space.

  • 🚶 Walking distance: 132km (less than the 2020 average of 154km, but not embarrassing and way up on last month’s 72km)
  • 🚲 Biking distance: 45km (more rain)
  • 🚗 Driving distance: 634km (about the same as April)
  • 🚗 Taxi distance: 63km (I’ll count chauffering from Arthur’s Pass to Springfield in a tow truck)
  • 🚌 Bus distance: 64km (more rain)
  • 🛩 Plane distance: 611km (WLG-CHC, CHC-WLG)
  • 🚡 Cable car distance: 3.5km (5x)

I really should put more air in my bike tires.

Climbing Mount French. Also Lake Brunner at golden hour.


I looked at last month’s numbers and made more of an effort to get out somewhere in downtown Wellington whenever I could. Still not a lot of big walks, but a bit more.

Started June with a big walking day in Rotorua. Read about it next month!

Some fungi spotted on Mount French.

Other sports

Didn’t miss any judo practice all month, although there was one where I was outrageously late after going to a NZAC presentation on climbing in the Darrens. Better late than never. Also the Canterbury Open. Can’t win em all, but did win 2 of 3 matches, with a refereeing error in the other one.

Another bronze medal.

Got to the climbing gym once. Maybe I’ll try out the gym in Rotorua today.

Travel planning

A lot! More planning for Rotorua/Tauranga in July, Rotorua in June (where I am as I write this), for the Christchurch/West Coast trip that we did in May (just in time, was weather dependent), Cook Islands in August, Auckland in July.

In bullets, upcoming trips:

  • Rotorua, early June (right now)
  • Hobbiton mid-winter feast etc (Rotorua/Tauranga), July
  • Auckland, July
  • Cook Islands, August Still need to get accommodation for Auckland and for some of the days in Rarotonga (Cook Islands).

Other updates


Finally got some long-overdue AV gear!

  • A ring light (for the graduation); actually I should have filmed in the vestibule with filtered light from above. I don’t think it was super effective and it’s not the best for meetings (pretty bright!), but surely good for short video segments (its intended use case).
  • A Blue Yeti also for the graduation.
  • A USB-C hub (which I had to exchange, but now I seem to have a working one), when I found myself short on USB ports.
  • A longer power cable.
  • More velcro straps to tie up cables. I think I need more USB cables but I’m not sure.

I talked about having no inReach. I also cancelled my search and rescue insurance. ACC covers treatment for accidents after one gets back to civilization and SAR is not charged in New Zealand. I’m also eligible for NZ public healthcare now, though that covers specialists and hospital care (and not GPs in particular, go figure, who needs prevention.)


All in Wellington.

  • Acceptable sushi at Ozeki
  • We went to Mr. Go’s a few times and continue to enjoy it. Highly recommended.
  • Regal is not as good as Dragons.
  • Hey Ramen in the Majestic Centre is decent.

We failed to eat at any restaurants at all in Christchurch. Kinji is tricky for weekend visits. Just like there are some restaurants I’d like to try in Wellington but which require special planning.

Books and other media

I read some of the books in that pile from the library, returned others, and still have some.

  • Fight for the Wild, about saving NZ’s unique charismatic megafauna.
  • Hauturu: The history, flora and fauna of Te Hauturu-o-Toi Little Barrier Island, a pretty technical book about the wildlife on this vast predator-free sanctuary which is inaccessible to most of us.
  • Auntie Poldi and the Vineyards of Etna translated from the original German Tante Poldi und die Früchte des Herrn; apparently one loses something in the Bavarian sayings in the translation. I’ve read that my demographic reads very few novels, so I occasionally try to cast across type. Good to read longer-form fiction sometimes. I wonder if I could read the German, with a dictionary (and after a year of Duolingo). It would surely be good for me to do so, but a lot of work. Anyway, sure, a light, fun read.

More writeups

I’ve been trying to do photos, but the pile of writeups continues. I did do a few that were not from this list.

  • Photos: making some progress by virtue of not being out quite so much in April
  • 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
  • January (Hump Ridge) trip writeup
  • February (Tongariro) trip writeup
  • April (Canterbury) trip writeup
  • May (Canterbury) trip writeup
  • Days of Great Walks writeup
  • SF vs Wellington writeup
  • NZ National Parks writeup (hey, I visited a new one)


  • Got my flu shot, though there isn’t that much flu circulating per the flu tracker results. There could be some coming from Australia, but not that much. It costs $30 here for most people, unless paid for by work or at high risk.
  • There was a lunar eclipse, but I didn’t really get good shots. I didn’t quite know how to operate my tripod for celestial shots and so I used it as a bi-pod. Not as good. I’ll know for next time I want celestial shots.
  • Went to a talk about perch eradication at Zealandia.
  • More social meetups than usual (4).
  • Fixed problems with airline tickets (refunded Air Canada tickets, fixed WLG-CHC after a cancellation), and reinstated MP’s Freedom Mobile number after a blooper on their part. It would be a pain to get a phone number cancelled with the increasing number of two-factor authentication sites.


This did feel like a standard May for me, except for being halfway around the world. But Canada’s still not exactly normal yet.