TITLE: StrangeLoop is in the Books AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: September 27, 2015 6:56 PM DESC: ----- BODY:
a plaque outside the St. Louis Public Library
The conference came and went far too quickly, with ideas enough for many more days. As always, Alex Miller and his team put on a first-class program with the special touches and the vibe that make me want to come back every year. Most of the talks are already online. I will be writing up my thoughts on some of the talks that touched me deepest in separate entries over the next few days. For now, let me share notes on a few other talks that I really enjoyed. Carin Meier talked about her tinkering with the ideas of chemical computing, in which we view molecules and reactions as a form of computation. In her experiments, Meier encoded numbers and operations as molecules, put them in a context in which they could react with one another, and then visualized the results. This sort of computation may seem rather inefficient next to a more direct algorithm, it may give us a way to let programs discover ideas by letting simple concepts wander around and bump into one another. This talk reminded me of AM and Eurisko, AI programs from the late 1970s which always fascinated me. I plan to try Meier's ideas out in code. Jan Paul Posma gave us a cool look at some Javascript tools for visualizing program execution. His goal is to make it possible to shift from ordinary debugging, which follows something like the scientific method to uncover hidden errors and causes, to "omniscient debugging", in which everything we need to understand how our code runs is present in the system. Posma's code and demos reminded me of Bret Victor's work, such as learnable programming. Caitie McCaffrey's talk on building scalable, stateful services and Camille Fournier's talk on hope and fear in distributed system design taught me a little about a part of the computing world I don't know much about. Both emphasized the importance of making trade-offs among competing goals and forces. McCaffrey's talk had a more academic feel, with references to techniques such as distributed hash tables with nondeterministic placement, whereas Fournier took a higher-level look at how context drives the balance between scale and fault tolerance. From each talk I took at least one take-home lesson for me and my students: Fournier did a wonderful job stepping in to give the Saturday keynote address on short notice. She was lively, energetic, and humorous -- just what the large audience needed after a long day of talks and a long night of talking and carousing. Her command of the room was impressive. More notes soon. ~~~~ PHOTO. One of the plaques on the outside wall of the St. Louis Public Library, just a couple of blocks from the Peabody Opera House and StrangeLoop. Eugene Wallingford, 2015. Available under a CC BY-SA license. -----