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Blogging: New Zealand Jan 2009

Barbara and I gave a two-day pre-conference workshop at Australasian Computing Education Conference (ACE) 2009, and I gave a keynote for ACE at the Australasian Computer Science Week (ACSW) 2009 in beautiful Wellington, NZ. Here's our story about the trip. My whole picture album for this trip is at (I'll try to make it so that you can click on these pictures to see larger versions.)

Thurs-Sat 15-17 January 2009

The trip started out with a bit of panic. We got to the airport at 3:30 pm for our 5:30 pm flight. The Delta kiosks wouldn't let us check in. We waited in line and were told that we were too late to check in our bags. WHAT?!?

Turns out that Delta changed our flight to LAX on us the night before we left! They changed the estimated arrival time for the 5:30 pm flight to 7:35 pm PST (instead of originally estimated 7:15 pm), which Delta felt was too late to make our 9:15 pm flight to Auckland, New Zealand. So, they put us on the 4:10 pm flight – and didn't tell us. We found out later our travel agent in New Zealand did get notified, but not after he left for the day. He got in at 9 am (3 pm ourtime), so at 3:30 pm, he was only just finding out what happened, too.

Delta recognized that they hosed us, so they put us back onto the 5:30 pm flight. We lost our selected seats, so we were in the middle in two different rows – and we weren't sure that we could make our flight when we got to LAX. Fortunately, our flight got in at the original 7:15 pm time, and we made our flight to Auckland just fine.

My lesson for this trip was that one can bear a 13.5 hour flight by being drugged asleep most of the way. Barb and I took our Ambien right after the in-flight dinner, and slept for about four hours. When we woke up, with six hours or so left to go, Barb suggested just taking another. Sleeping for 8 hours or so made it much more comfortable.

We got to Auckland, passed through customs (where they inspected our boots, to make sure we weren't bringing anything in via our feet), and had a snack. (Nice sushi!) It was a one hour flight to Wellington.

Barb next to a Maori display in Auckland Airport

Alex Potanin, one of the ACSW chairs, was just amazing. He picked us up at the airport, and helped us deal with Air New Zealand losing Barb's bag. (Turns out that it just missed the flight from Wellington, and it showed up that afternoon.) He took us to the airport, waited for us to shower, then took us out for lunch and a three hour tour of Wellington! We had lunch overlooking the southern tip of the Island.


He took us to Mount Victoria (where parts of The Lord of the Rings was filmed) for gorgeous views of Wellington.


We went back and had an hour nap. We started preparing for our workshop, and realized that we really needed a USB mouse. We went out at 5:30 pm to find one, and found that everything was closed up already! We made it down to a grocery store, where we still couldn't find a mouse, but did find Alex and Margaret Hamilton, the ACE co-chair.


They took us out to a really nice Indian restaurant for dinner. We got back around 9 pm, and we worked until we nearly collapsed around 11 pm.

Sun 18 Jan 2009

We woke up around 4 am, then got back to sleep around 7 am. We had a nice breakfast in the lobby, then got to Skype with Sarita and Katie. We walked over with Margaret to the workshop.

Walking past the Parliament building on the way to the workshop

People in the workshop listening to Barb teaching

Barb helping some teachers in the workshop work with images

Several people in the workshop said that they really were liking it. We went from 9am to 5pm – but we couldn't get everyone to leave until 5:45 pm. We met at 6 pm to walk to a nice Thai restaurant. I sat next to Tony Clear and across from Raymond Lister, and listened to stories of New Zealand and Australian academic life. (It's a lot scarier here. Tenured faculty and chairs are getting laid off in these bad economic times with low CS enrollment.) Afterwards, we walked to a really nice dessert restaurant where I got to try Pavlova. WAY too sweet for me!

Walking to the dessert place, Strawberry Fare, under the Tripod Sculpture

Wellington is such an interesting city. The buildings are a mix of really old and really modern. The wind is amazingly intense. Alex says that Wellington regularly gets gusts over hurricane speeds. We'll be walking along, then we have to lean into the wind to keep going. There are sculptures and poetry all over the place.

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By the time we got back, it was around 11 pm, and we were exhausted. We were asleep in minutes.

Mon 19 Jan 2009

We both woke around 4 am and tried to get back to sleep until around 6:30 am. We're generally doing okay with the massive time shift, except for waking too early.

Barb in front of our workshop "Learning Theater"

Barb taught Alice and Media Computation all morning. The room was filled with the sound of chickens and cows and giggling as people made their movies. At lunchtime, teachers worked on their movies and images and sounds. After lunch, we had a showing of cool things people had created during the workshop.

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This is an Alice Cowboy, chromakeyed into a desert

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She's beautiful, even in one or few colors

Isn't this a cool shot?

I then did the Media Computation data structures talk, and led a discussion about the role of contextualized computing education in Australasian computing education. The workshop ended well. Margaret gave us lovely cards signed by everyone in the workshop.

We rushed over to Te Papa. We got a chance to look around a bit, then went to the Meeting House at Te Papa for a Maori welcome ceremony.

Colossal Squid, the only one on display anywhere

Front Gate of Meeting Hall

Meeting Hall inside

Click on this line to see a movie of parts of the Powhiri ceremony

Afterward, we went off to dinner with a bunch of folks from the workshop and other friends.

The discussion at all the dinners this week has been pretty interesting. Australasian schools have a very different model for encouraging faculty research and for encouraging global collaboration. Schools pay for travel to conferences. The amount of travel you get depends on how many papers you published the year before. There are requirements for so many papers per year (10 per year at one institution), and there are careful rankings (much discussed and argued about) These faculty from Australasia talk about traveling for collaborations and conferences in India, London, Germany, Spain, and the United States – every one of them, in many countries. (One person referred to the Singapore airport as "being like a mall. I arrive, look around, and leave on the next plane.") A downside of this is that the faculty (admittedly!) produce some pretty cruddy papers sometimes just to meet the requirements. On positive side, good things do come out of that persistence (as Edison points out) and these faculty really have a strong sense about work going on around the world. I don't think that I've ever had so many people at a conference ask about my Ph.D. students, and I'm in New Zealand! Many people here have met them and know what they're working on. There's a sense of global connection here that I don't often see in an American-majority conference.

We got to bed by just after 10 pm.

Tues 20 January 2009

We got up around 6 am! Our best night of sleeping yet! We had breakfast and headed over to Te Pape. Even on a gray and cloudy day, it was gorgeous. What a nice walk to work!

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The opening speaker was the Minister of Science and Technology. He was quite good, and he apologized that he couldn't stay for my talk because he had to go to a Cabinet meeting in twenty minutes. He was a great setup for my talk, because he emphasized the importance of computing education.

Me giving my keynote

Barb took LOTS of pictures of me speaking. Here's me demonstrating how American Football refs signal a Touchdown.

There was an audience there!

The questions were really good – we both remember saying that. However, we've already forgotten what they were! We can both remember two of them.
  • "We tried a computational media degree at Exeter. After 8 years, we stopped it. Two things got in our way – the faculty didn't respect the degree, and we couldn't get it accredited. How will your computational media degree fare differently?" To this one, I commented on the importance of teaming with LCC so that we gained the faculty's respect for LCC. Second, I pointed how ABET different from Australasian accreditation processes.
  • "You're teaching programming in terms of process and algorithms. Most modern programming is in terms of events and objects. Are you trying to turn back the clock?" I responded no, I'd really love to teach more in terms of events and production rules, and I talked about John Pane's work on HANDS. (I left out that I wouldn't teach more about objects.) I pointed out that I was teaching what people wanted at this time, that non-computing faculty don't necessarily want their students working on the latest computing languages. I told the story of Chemical Engineering still wanting us to teach Fortran. I said that we might expect to teach more about other languages later.
  • I got asked about eScience (computational science), though I can't remember the exact question now. I know that I talked about our Bio-CS1 effort.
  • "You've told us how you'd convince the other faculty about teaching computing to everyone. How will you convince us? Why should we want to do this?" I responded, "How much influence do you want to have on society? You can just teach diminishing numbers of computing majors, or you can teach everyone on campus and influence everyone's perception of computing."

Margaret giving me a lovely glass plate souvenir after my talk

Then I was done! We had a nice lunch with everyone, then headed back to the hotel to change. When we got back, we attended a talk, then Alex grabbed me. "Could you talk to a reporter about ACE and ACSW?" I did, so I was interviewed by a New Zealand reporter this afternoon! I shared my slides with her.

An article about the Minister's talk and my keynote talk appeared in the New Zealand ComputerWorld the next week:

Barb and I took a cool walk about Te Papa, through simulated caves and rain forest.

From Jan2009-NewZealand

From Jan2009-NewZealand

Then back to sessions. We had dinner at Mac's Brewery with Margaret and a colleague of hers, James, both from Melbourne. We talked about a tragedy of two kids who had recently got killed by falling ice from a glacier walking too close, and that got them talking about people who swam in Melbourne where the signs say, "No Swimming! Beware of Crocodiles!" A fairly uniquely Australasian conversation.

Okay, I have now been officially yelled at by our ISP. Turns out that in New Zealand, you pay not just for the access time, but also for how much traffic flows over your pipe. Two hours is $10NZD and 20 Mb. 24 hours is $40 and 100 Mb. I got yelled at for using a gigabyte in 24 hours. So, my pictures will just be links over to PicassaWeb – get all the pictures and full versions at And I'll just telegraph the story here.

Wed 21 Jan 2009

We got down to breakfast just as the power went out over much of Wellington! We hiked up the nine stories to our room, then back down again to get to Te Papa for the early morning sessions.

We were more intrigued by the beautiful weather than the Theory keynote talk, so we played hookey. We put on shorts, and headed out to kayak in Wellington Harbor.

We had lunch with the conference, and attended some more sessions in the afternoon. Ray Lister had a nice talk about what students think about lectures that had some connections for Lijun Ni's work on teachers. We spent some time in the afternoon explore Te Papa some more which is an amazing museum.

In the evening, we had a Malaysian dinner, then caught the 9:15 flight to Christchurch on the South Island. We caught a taxi and spent the night in the Grand Chancellor Christchurch, right downtown (across from the bar made up to look like a Western saloon).

Thur 22 Jan 2009

Tim Bell (of Computer Science Unplugged) and his wife Judith picked us up at the hotel, and we took Judith to a music teachers conference where she was presenting. Their whole family is musical, and they have a band that plays gigs (weekly! with everything else Tim does!) around the South Island. Judith teaches music and was giving a presentation on jazz to classical music teachers (!), so we dropped off her equipment for her talk.

Tim showed us around Christchurch, especially the very British gardens.

Then we headed to Akoroa. Akoroa is on the Banks Peninsula, formed by three volcanoes about an hour outside of Christchurch. (I blogged elsewhere on some of our conversation with Tim.) At the top of the rim of the first volcano is a pub, The Sign of the Kiwi, with gorgeous views of Christchurch and the lake inside the crater.

We stopped at the town of Little Rivers and had meat pies and frittatas. (I had a pumpkin one!) We got to Akoroa and were blown away with how beautiful it was – a quiet little town on the edge of this gorgeous lake. We walked around it, and threw a forest on the edge of the lake.

Barb had already booked us on a penguin tour that evening. As we were walking around, we saw ads for a Dolphin Cruise which included seals, and would get us back before our penguin tour. Seats for three please!

The ride was lovely. We saw a Maori community, called a Pa. We saw massive caves and cool scenery. We only saw a few dolphins (Hector Dolphins, the rarest in the world). It was much like a whale watch – you watch for a long time, then you catch a glimpse, and that one's gone.

From Jan2009-NewZealand

Maori community

From Jan2009-NewZealand

Clearly the coolest part of that trip was seeing the seals. As we slowed down by the rocks, the Captain said, "They're all over here, but it may take you a few minutes to see them." All three of us thought that he was joking with us. Then we saw the pond with all the baby seals. Once they were moving, we saw them everywhere! There were probably three or four dozen seals all told. It was amazing!

From Jan2009-NewZealand

From Jan2009-NewZealand

From Jan2009-NewZealand

A word about New Zealand and Maori. The Maori got to New Zealand around 1000-1200 AD, 500-600 years before Cook. That's enough to give them precedence. The British actually signed a treaty with over 500 Maori tribes, saying that they kept the land, but the Crown ruled. However, there were two documents – one in English and one in Maori, and the words didn't exactly translate. That led to a few years of peace, followed by years of wars. What's striking about New Zealand is that the government apologized and works actively to make Maori an equal partner in everything New Zealand, including settling land claims. The result is that you're aware of Maori everywhere in New Zealand. All official signs are in both English and Maori. (Sign is also recognized as an official language.) The official museum, Te Papa, is more about Maori than about the English who settled New Zealand. The New Zealand Rugby team starts each game with a haka, a frightening dance meant to intimidate the other team. It's really striking – imagine treating Native Americans in the same way in the States.

When we got back, we had dinner at a place on the water. Tim went to go have a coffee and do some homework for his meeting the next day in Wellington. We waited to be picked up by proprietor of the Pohatu Penguins tour, and the owner of the land around Flea Bay. We took a four wheel drive up the edge of the crater wall for some terrific views.

From Jan2009-NewZealand

Then we went down to her farm on the shore of the Flea Bay. New Zealanders take very seriously returning the land to its original pre-European condition, or thereabouts. When the Europeans came, they burned the forests that covered the islands to create farmland. Today, very little of the original forests still exist. While not surprising, it is striking how fast this happened – only about 100-150 years. At Flea Bay, they have sworn covenants to allow some of their land to return to its original state and never farm it.

We were there to see the penguins. Flea Bay is also a Blue Penguin (white flippered) and Yellow Eyed Penguin breeding grounds. The caretakers of the farm keep track of the penguins, doctor the sick chicks, and try to keep away the ferrets and stoats that eat the chicks and eggs. We saw them doctor the penguins, then went out to check the huts. Blue Penguins burrow, but they provide pre-built nests for them. "First class accomodations, but they have to deal with the roof being taken off occasionally."

From Jan2009-NewZealand

From Jan2009-NewZealand

We saw one nest of adult and child penguins. Most of the penguins were still swimming in after a day of fishing. We had to leave by 9 pm to make it back to Tim on time, and most of the penguins were still enjoying the longer day. We could see them clustered in the water, and only saw one come to shore while we watched.

From Jan2009-NewZealand

Tim took us the long drive (up and down hills, all curvey, at night – gulp!) back to Christchurch for the night.

Fri 23 Jan 2009

This was our day of adventure! We had breakfast at an all-breakfast restaurant called Drexel's that was really great. Then we caught a cab to the airport, picked up a car, and started the drive West. We were going to cross the Southern Alps, through Arthur's Pass, up and down very curvy mountain roads – while driving on the left side of the road!

We started out in the Canterbury Plains, all farmland. Then as we reached the mountains, it changed to scrub. It looked like Utah or maybe Montana.

From Jan2009-NewZealand

We stopped at Castle Hill, a stand of huge limestone rocks where Maori used to gather food. There were caves there that Maori used to stay in while food-gathering. We hiked up to one (on a very steep hill!), then took a trail until it ended in a drop-off.

From Jan2009-NewZealand

We continued onto Arthur's Pass, one of the few passes through the mountains. The mountains were really, truly mountains. They started out rounded and forested up to Arthur's Pass, then became rocky and impressive. We had lunch at a cafe at the pass, then hiked up (about an hour, about 1.5K each way, seemingly steeply uphill both ways) to Punchbowl Falls, a really nice waterfall.

From Jan2009-NewZealand

From Jan2009-NewZealand

While at the car park (read: "parking lot") for the Punchbowl Falls trail, we saw a Kea, a native parrot. Barb and I decided that with penguins, dolphins, seals, and parrots, New Zealand was like a zoo – but the animals are all on the outside!

From Jan2009-NewZealand

We then made a command decision: We wanted to see a glacier. It was going to take a run for it, though, because we didn't want to be driving at night. Barb took over driving as we raced down onto the West Coast. Driving through the Pass was really challenging. not only was it twisty-turny, but the bridges (about a dozen through the Pass) are mostly one-lane!. One side "Gives Way" to the other. So you pull up to these bridges (varying in length between 20 to 100 yards long), look to see if anyone else was there, and make a run for it. It worked, but between driving on the edge of mountains and driving on the left side, the bridges only made it more of an adventure.

The land was markedly different on the West Coast – thick jungle and ferns. Barb said that it could be the setting for the next Jurassic Park movie.

From Jan2009-NewZealand

From Jan2009-NewZealand

From Jan2009-NewZealand

When we got to the Tasman Sea, we decided to go ahead and book a hotel, so that we wouldn't have to worry about it at night. We stopped in Hoktiki to book a beachfront hotel that the guidebook recommended. When we checked in, we said that we wanted to go see the glaciers. "Oh you can't do that," said the lady at the front desk. "It's 4 pm. It's too late!" Those are words that spur a Barbara into action!

Barb drove us south down the West Coast. It was jungle again, especially over Mt. Hercules which was even more twisty-turny than the Alps! According to the GPS, we were going to get to Franz Joseph about 6:10 pm. Barb was worried that we wouldn't get a helicopter that late, so when we saw a sign for rides over the glaciers about 30 minutes outside of Franz Joseph, she pulled off.

20 minutes later, we were in a helicopter at 10,000 feet! It was amazing. We saw Mt. Cook and Mt. Tasman, and many glaciers, including the Franz Joseph (biggest), Fox, and Tasman glaciers. The pilot said that the snow was 40 meters deep in the snow field, and that the Franz Joseph glacier was 28 km long.

From Jan2009-NewZealand

From Jan2009-NewZealand

From Jan2009-NewZealand

From Jan2009-NewZealand

Thrilled, we headed back to Hoktiki. We had dinner in a pub in the city of Harihari on the way back, and I had "whitebait" – little white fish considered a delicacy in the area. For we Michiganians, read "smelt."

We got back to Hoktiki, and Barb said, "Let's go see the glow worms!" Hoktiki has a Glowworm Dell where glowworm larvae glow (surprise!) and drop sticky lines (like webs) to capture insects drawn to the glow. It was pretty cool, but no pictures.

After this incredible day, we fell asleep immediately.

Sat 24 Jan 2009

We got up and had breakfast overlooking the beach, then took a walk on the dark sand (volcanic? Not quite as black as Hawaii). We stopped at the National Kiwi Center where we saw Kiwi! They're nocturnal, so it's a really dark room where you see them. They have no visible wings, which I was really surprised at. They walk around, but they also hop a lot like smaller birds. We couldn't take pictures of the kiwis, but I did get pictures of Barb feeding giant eels!

From Jan2009-NewZealand

Barb wasn't feeling well, so I got to drive through the pass myself. Gulp! It went fine, but I was pretty tired by the time we got to the Christchurch Airport. We wanted to go see the Antartic Center, where the various Antartic Expeditions left from. It's got rides and real snow and lots of penguins. But it was $48NZD per adult, and we only had 45 minutes. So we just took back the rental car and went back to Wellington.

We went to the Matterhorn on recommendation of websites and tourbook – hip, trendy, cool cocktails, small but fancy portions. We were relatively unimpressed.

After dinner, we hung out and watched "Jaws" on New Zealand Channel 4. Seemed appropriate after our sea adventures.

Sun 25 Jan 2009

We declared Sunday a quiet day. After breakfast at the Ibis, we went to church. We saw Alex Potanin (our conference co-chair) and his wife Nellie. We strolled the downtown and then went back to the hotel for work.

From Jan2009-NewZealand

We took two stops during the day. We went to the Museum of Wellington and the Sea, which had some really interesting history about the city and about the awful shipwrecks in the area. We also took a cable car up to the Botanical Gardens and walked down. We had dinner at Monsoon Pon, a nice Asian fusion place. We had a tasting of New Zealand wines and start figuring out what we really liked.

From Jan2009-NewZealand

Mon 26 Jan 2009

I took a cab to the airport to get a rental car and drove back (by myself! Imagining Barb saying "Keep Left!" :-). Barb, meanwhile, made arrangements to go on a trail ride along the cost. We found when we got there that he was a Maori and had been an extra on Lord of the Rings. In fact, he was a Rider of Rohan, and one of his horses was in one of the movies, too.

From Jan2009-NewZealand

From Jan2009-NewZealand

We then drove toward Martinborough, one of New Zealand's wine towns. Along the way, we stopped to see the Hutt River, which played the role of "River Anduin" and "Rohan River" in the movies.

From Jan2009-NewZealand

We also stopped at the park where Rivendell was created for the movies. There's nothing much there now. It's still a really pretty park and we enjoyed hiking around it for about an hour.

From Jan2009-NewZealand

From Jan2009-NewZealand

Here's Rivendell's location today

Going to Martinborough required crossing another mountain, even more twisty-turny than Mt. Hercules. We both were really glad to be past that.

We got to Martinborough around 5 pm – just as all the vineyards closed!! We took a picture of Barb near a vineyard, had dinner, and headed back. We wanted back through the nasty mountain before dark.

From Jan2009-NewZealand

Tues 27 Jan 2009

We had the car for this last day, so we checked out of the hotel and started driving. (Over $300NZD in Internet charges for the week-and-a-half! Thank goodness it's a .52 USD to NZD, and the conference is paying 600NZD of my expenses!) We went around Wellington Harbor to the open sea.

From Jan2009-NewZealand

From Jan2009-NewZealand

From Jan2009-NewZealand

We spent hours again in Te Papa. What a great museum! We learned more about earthquakes and volcanoes and cyclones. They had a sign, "New Zealand: Naturally disastrous!" which seems accurate, but really lousy marketing.

From Jan2009-NewZealand
New Zealand grows large earthworms

We got to the airport in plenty of time, and no hiccups this time. We got to LAX after some sleep (TGFA, Thank God for Ambien). Kim Rose and Ian Piumarta of Viewpoints Research took us out for dinner, which was really lovely of them. After the rest of our NINE HOUR LAYOVER, we caught the last leg home. It arrived early on Wed 28 Jan, so we got home in time to see all of our children before they headed off to school.


Man! What a cool trip that must have been - you guys certainly packed the days full!
  • Patrick Widener

You travel as one should! I like how "Nope, glaciers are closed" just spurred Barb to action. Is Tim Bell as nice in person as he is over Skype? Glad you got to spend time with him. This is a great travelogue (TGFA...LOL!), thanks for sharing.

...not sure it's clear, this last comment is from me, Jane Krauss

Thank you so much for the time and effort you put in to providing this chronicle of your trip. It was so fun to read. I can feel your excitement and sense of adventure. This was a great travel blog! Rachael Takei

Last modified 29 December 2010 at 12:36 pm by