April 09, 2007

My impressions of ILC'07

I am posting this as an individual member of the Lisp community. I am not speaking for the ILC'07 organizers. (Oh man... ;)

I am very happy that ILC'07 turned out to be so successful. This hasn't been always clear during the preparations, so I guess all the organizers breathed a sigh of relief when the numbers of registrations started to increase (and we suddenly had to come up with ideas how to manage a situation in which we nearly had too many registrations ;).

Among the "generic" highlights, I personally enjoyed the atmosphere a lot. I am convinced that this is mainly due to the fact that almost everyone had their accommodation at the same place. In my experience, conferences where this is the case are typically more successful - you already see the participants in the morning during breakfast, you have a lot more time to talk to each other, and so on.

For me, it was also nice to see so many people again. On average, the number of smart people is a lot higher at Lisp meetings than elsewhere, so there is always a chance to have some very interesting discussions with very different perspectives provided by everyone.

About the conference itself, I am happy that the program chair (JonL White) has carefully selected a very interesting set of presentations. Almost all talks were of high quality, covering a broad range of topics with only a couple of downers. My personal highlights have been:

  • Antonio Leitao's work on translating Java source code to idiomatic (!) Common Lisp sources. He has already done the reverse (translating a subset of Common Lisp to Java) in the past and is now heading towards a solution that potentially improves the situation on the library front for Common Lisp. The interesting aspect here is the focus on generating idiomatic code, i.e., code as if it had been written manually by experts in the respective target languages.

  • Mike Sperber's illuminating talk about R6RS Scheme. I had some fears wrt having this presentation for an audience that mostly consists of Lispers, but non-Schemers. However, Mike has given a very entertaining talk and helped everyone to have a better idea about the goals of R6RS. (IMHO, it's important that Schemers and Lispers talk more to each other because both sides can learn from each other. I'm glad that ILC'07 has helped improve the situation a little bit.)

  • Manuel Serrano has given a very impressive presentation about his HOP framework for developing web applications in Scheme. It's good to see that there are a couple of approaches that head in the right direction of enabling the creation of GUIs that makes users' lives easier instead of focusing on solving technicalities of accidental elements in the underlying technology (for example, the infamous "back" button). I see HOP in the same line as Marc Battyani's (unfortunately unpublished) web framework, but as far as I can tell, Manuel has gone a few steps further.

  • Alexander Repenning had a paper about X-expressions in XMLisp, which sounds a lot more boring than what he actually presented. This is not yet another library for dealing with XML, but actually modifies the Common Lisp reader (parser) to treat XML as syntax for literal CLOS objects. The applications that he has built on top of that technology are very impressive indeed.

  • Clemens Fruhwirth's Liskell is actually a very simple idea. He takes GHC - a widely used implementation of Haskell - and replaces the Haskell syntax with s-expressions. This enables, among other things, the inclusion of macros. I have always wanted to take a closer look at Haskell, but its syntax always put me off. Now I don't have an excuse anymore. ;)

For obviously personal reasons, I am also very happy that Charlotte Herzeel's presentation about HALO is so well-received - she got a lot of positive feedback for her presentation. However, it is only an overview of HALO, there is still more to come. I hope that we can report on some exciting results soon.

On the negative side about ILC'07, it seems to me that the program was maybe a little too packed - we had to get up very early in the morning (very hard for me ;), and there was maybe not enough time to engage in discussions or even do some work with other attendees. We have tried to establish a breakout group format, but apparently we haven't found the right approach yet. Ralf Mattes suggested a birds-of-a-feather-sessions format to me, so maybe that's something we should look into for the future.

A real downer was the annual meeting of the Associations of Lisp Users (ALU). It wasn't the first time they promised to become more "professional", but their presentation to the ALU members was worse than average. I hope they will manage to get their act together. Otherwise, it will be hard for them to be taken seriously by the Lisp community in the long run. It is worth noting, though, that they are responsible for backing the International Lisp Conference, so they must be doing something right... ;)

Fortunately, the rest of the conference didn't suffer from the ALU meeting - the day after was as good as, or maybe even a little more exciting than, the other days on all levels.

Next on the schedule is the European Lisp Workshop, co-located with ECOOP 2007 and taking place in Berlin on July 30, and most likely sometime early next year another instance of the European Common Lisp Meeting.

No comments: