Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Strange Looping in St. Louis

I spent the last three days in St. Louis at the Strange Loop conference and the associated Emerging Languages Camp:


It was truly a great conference.  The two keynotes were exceptional.  Michael Stonebraker (of Ingres and Postgres fame) spoke about his new extraordinarily fast in-memory database VoltDB.  Jeff Hawkins (of Palm and "On Intelligence" fame) spoke about his theory of how the neocortex works, with special emphasis on Sparse Distributed Representations. He also talked about how his new company Numenta had figured out how to embody some of these theories in a program called Grok, which is actually useful for real-world problems such as predicting energy usage of a building twenty-four hours in advance, to allow for advance purchase of electricity at the best rates.

But it wasn't just the keynotes.  There was a wonderful grab-bag of talks on all sorts of subjects, from retargeting the Scala compiler to generate LLVM assembly language (rather than Java), to how Grand Central Dispatch works in iOS and Mac OS X, to ruminations on P vs. NP.  The crowd was heavily tilted toward functional programming, but there were still enough others around to keep things interesting.  And the forces for static typing vs. those for dynamic typing seem to have been closely matched in strength, so Scala and JavaScript were both very hot topics. 

I had presented on ParaSail at the prior Emerging Languages Camp, and that seemed to disqualify me from presenting again this year.  But I did lead a (very small) unsession on the use of region-based storage management for parallel programming.  One benefit was it forced me to coalesce ideas on why region-based storage management is an excellent alternative to a global garbage-collected heap in a highly parallel environment.  Slides from this unsession are available at:


All in all, these past three days were a great mind-expanding experience.  I encourage anyone who has the time, to make an effort to attend Strange Loop next year; I presume it will be at about the same time of year in St. Louis again.

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