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7 Dec 2007

by Noel

ICFP 2007 In Review

At last — the long awaited ICFP post! In summary: ICFP was awesome. Freiburg is lovely, the German beer is fantastic, and everyone at the conference was very friendly. It was great to put faces to people we’ve conversed with for years, to meet old friends, and to make new ones.

We gave two talks, one at ICFP on our work building web sites in Scheme (paper here), and one at CUFP (PLT Slideshow slides PDF slides). Both were, I think, well received: a few people expressed some interest in having us come and talk to their groups, and the CUFP organisers invited us to join them at dinner.

There was a definite buzz about ICFP. It seems functional languages are beginning to take off — CUFP doubled its attendence over last year, and ICFP strained the capacity of the hotel. There was something of a reality distortion field in place though. After a few days at the conference you could begin to believe the entire software market consisted of either program verification tools in Haskell or telephony apps in Erlang. There was little representation from web developers, who I think must make up the largest group of commercial developers. I believe this is because Haskell users really dominate ICFP, and Haskell doesn’t have a particularly good web development story as far as I know.

It was interesting to see how the other communities are developing. The Haskell guys had a 3-day Hackathon right after ICFP, which is pretty impressive, and there is a practical Haskell book in development, something which is needed for Scheme. Erlang seemed to have slightly better industry representation and also has several recent practically-oriented publications. I heard that many people had arrived just for the Erlang workshop, which was held the day after CUFP.

Of course the conference revolved around the paper presentations. There were too many to review them all, so I’ll just note the ones that were particularly relevant to our work at Untyped.

Matthew Flatt’s talk on Adding Delimited and Composable Control to a Production Programming Environment was a great presentation on a new feature in PLT Scheme, delimited continuations, that will be very useful in the web server. Matthew hacked Slideshow (something you can do when you’re the core developer) to support animations by quickly fading between slides. His 1028 slides made for some slick animations that quickly and clearly got across the concept of delimited continuations. This was perhaps the best presentation I saw at the conference and it was on something we’ll definitely be using.

The iData toolkit is a Clean library that uses meta-programming to generate code for viewing and editing arbitrary data online (like Ruby on Rail’s scaffolding, but better). At ICFP this year the followup,iTasks: Executable Specifications of Interactive Work Flow Systems for the Web, was presented. Essentially it is a combinator library for specifying workflows, including higher-order workflows. At is happens we may soon be involved in a project that deals with workflows, in which case we’ll review this work.

I really liked Advanced Macrology and the Implementation of Typed Scheme by Ryan Culpepper, Sam Tobin-Hochstadt, and Matthew Flatt. Typed Scheme is pretty cool, and we’ll probably use it when it has matured a bit more, but my favourite bit of this paper is the first half which is essentially a tutorial on intermediate to advanced macrology. There is precious little material available on this corner of Scheme, so it is very welcome addition.

Also of particular interest to us were Applications of Fold to XML Transformation, and Software Transactions Meet First-Class Continuations. We’ve already had occasion to use ideas from the former, while the later gave us some food for thought with regards toSnooze We had an interesting conversation with Adam Wingo, author of the paper on folds, about the advantages of distributed version control. Something we need to look into. Adam also has a great job that allows him to spend two days a week hanging out in Barcelona’s cafes. Some people get all the luck.

One point from ICFP that is particularly relevant for this blog: Dave Herman told me he’d like to see more technical posts. I’ve tried to make the content a bit more technical of late, but if there is anything in particular you’d like me to write about drop me a line.

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