Software Engineer

strangeloop: it's a wrap

I just got back from the final Strange Loop conference in St. Louis. I had a great time; it’s so inspiring to see all the different directions we can take technology and how playful it can be. Randall Munroe’s closing keynote really wrapped the conference up in positive vibes with a reminder that people are learning new things every day, and it’s up to all of us to lift each other up as we learn rather than ear each other down because of our own insecurities. It was great to hear that message from Randall himself (and to get to tell him how much I appreciated the message at his book signing)!

Here’s a random collection of resources, learnings, and musing that I took away from this year’s conference:

  • I really, really, really miss in-person collaboration and social time with my colleagues. It was so nice to meet up with former teammates and meet some other Hubbers in person. There’s just so much bonding that you can’t get over a zoom. My employer didn’t sponsor or cover travel expenses for anyone traveling to the conference this year, but I’m so appreciative that others valued making the trek and spending time together.
  • There was more than one reference to circus arts during this conference! First, Annmarie Thomas discussed a paper she authored Designing Responsive Flying Trapeze Performance Costumes, and Alex Miller talked about a performance from 2013’s conference, Thrown for a Loop: a Carnival of Consciousness, which I can’t wait to watch in full. Made me want to dust off my old aerialometer project and try to figure out how to visualize gyroscope data…
  • Some amazing educational resources about science include OK GO Sandbox and 3Blue1Brown.
  • Annmarie Thomas’s talk about play was so whimsical and fun, and a reminder about what play is all about – process, not outcome. It should be a joyful, social process that lets us express freedom of choice. And, she had an interesting book recommendation: The Amateur Hour: A History of College Teaching in America, which covers how much we emphasize research over teaching for faculty members in American Universities, to the detriment of our students.
  • Andrew Black’s talk “Why Programming Languages Matter” was super interesting, with mentions of the (overblown) Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis which argues that structure of language determines a native language speaker’s perception of the world. But Black did argue for the Blub Paradox which suggests we programmers like certain languages because they shape how we think programming should be. Black encourages us to challenge our preferences by learning many types of languages including functional, pure objects, CSP or Erlang, and logic programming. He also encourages us to be careful where we start from, as it will shape our destination (specifically in the case of designing a new language – our designs will be biased).
  • I really enjoyed Martin Kleppmann’s talk on Upwelling, which is a real-time collaborative editor with the concept of version control. He always does such a good job describing and explaining complex topics like convergence guarantees.
  • I am a huge fan of Julia Evans and loved her talk on Making Hard Things Easy. I think she blew everyone’s mind when explaining Shellcheck which helps find bugs in bash scripts. Lots of her other takeaways were super helpful for me, and directly relevant to some of my work. Pro tips include:
    • Share the tools you’re using to help reduce everyone’s cognitive load
    • Share the terrible things that computers have done to you (so that we can learn about what not to do, or how to protect against it)
    • Turn big lists into small lists (man pages are overwhelming – can we share the most relevant commands instead?)
    • Share your favorite references
    • To explain a system, tell the story of what the computer is doing, chronologically
  • There were two talks I was interested in, but missed, and heard they were excellent so I want to check them out once the videos are up – Comedy Writing with Small Generative Models and Designing Dope Distributed Systems for Outer Space with High Fidelity Simulation
  • Serendipitously, I met Andy Lindeman (a former Hubber!) on my plane who sent me a video about how DFAs power the Rails Router which is super relevant to my current academic pursuits. ;)
  • On a meta note, Alex Miller’s keynote about Strange Loop, where it came from, and how it grew and changed over the years was really interesting. It started as a super small, few hundred conference in 2009 and really grew and changed over the years. Hearing the economics behind putting on a conference were kind of terrifying, but I hope that someone else in the community is inspired to build something as unique and special.