My train ride to Paris was uneventful, and I arrived at my accommodation only several hours after bedtime. I did manage to write my talk, and it was good to discover the number of obsessive planet.lisp readers when I showed up to register – “good to see you again. How’s the talk?” was the median greeting. For the record, I had not only written my talk on the train but also had a chance to relax a little. Go trains.

The conference was fun; gatherings of like-minded people usually are, but of course it takes substantial effort from determined people to create the conditions for that to happen. Kent’s work as programme chair, both before and during the conference, came with a feeling of apparent serenity while never for a moment looking out of control, and the groundwork that the local organizing team (Didier Verna, Gérard Assayag and Sylvie Benoit) had done meant that even the problem of the registrations exceeding the maximum capacity of the room – nice problem to have! – could be dealt with.

I liked the variety in the keynotes. It was very interesting to hear Richard Gabriel’s talk on his research in mood in Natural Language processing and generation; in many ways, those research directions are similar to those in the Transforming Musicology world. The distinction he drew between programming for a purpose and programming for exploration was very clear, too: he made it clear that he considered them two completely different things, and with my hat as a researcher on I have to agree: usually when I'm programming for research I don’t know what I'm doing, and the domain of investigation is so obviously more unknown than the program structure that I had better have a malleable environment, so that I can minimize the cost of going down the wrong path. Pascal Costanza gave a clear and detailed view of the problems in parallel programming, drawing a distinction between parallelism and concurrency, and happened to use examples from several of my previous lives (Smooth-Particle Hydrodynamics, Sequence Alignment) to illustrate his points. Gábor Melis talked about his own learning and practice in the context of machine learning, with a particular focus on his enviable competition record; his call to aim for the right-hand side of the curves (representing clear understanding and maximum use-case coverage) was accompanied by announcements of two libraries, mgl-pax and mgl-mat.

My own presentation was, I suppose, competent enough (slides). Afterwards, I had a good talk with my previous co-author in the generalizes research line, Jim Newton, about the details, and Gábor told me he’d like to try it “on by default”. But the perils of trying to get across a highly-technical topic struck, and I got a number of comments of the form that the talk had been enjoyable but I’d “lost them at compute-applicable-methods-using-classes”. I suppose I could still win if the talk was enjoyable enough for them to read and work through the paper; maybe next time I might risk the demo effect rather more than I did and actually do some programming live on stage, to help ground the ideas in people’s minds. I did get a specific request: to write a blog post about eval-when in the context of metaobject programming, and hopefully I'll find time for the in the next few train journeys...

Meanwhile, highlights (for me) among the contributed papers: Nick Levine driving Lispworks’ CAPI graphical user interface library from SBCL using his Common Lisp AUdience Expansion toolkit (preaching to the choir, though: his real target is Python developers); Faré Rideau’s description of a decade-long exploration of defsystem design space; François-Xavier Bois’ demonstration of web-mode.el, an Emacs mode capable of handling CSS, Javascript and PHP simultaneously; and two talks motivated by pedagogy: Pedro Ramos’ discussion of the design tradeoffs involved in an implementation of Python in Racket, and the team presentation of the approach taken for a new robotics- and Scheme-oriented undergraduate first-year at Middlesex University, on which more in a subsequent post.

Lightning talks of particular note to me: Martin Simmons talking about Lispworks for mobile; Didier Verna and Marco Antoniotti talking about their respective documentation generation systems (my response); Mikhail Raskin’s argument about the opportunity to push Julia in a lispy direction; and probably others which will come back to mind later.

I was also pleased to be able to contribute to the last full session of the symposium, a workshop/panel about Lisp in the area of music applications: an area which is serendipitously close to the day job. I worked on getting a version of audioDB, our feature-vector search engine for similarity matching, built and working on my laptop, and finding a sufficiently interesting search among my Gombert/Josquin collection to demo – and I also had the chance to talk about Raymond Whorley’s work on using multiple viewpoint systems for hymn harmonizations, and what that teaches us about how people do it (slides, for what they're worth). Other systems of interest in the session included OpenMusic (of course, given where we were), PWGL, OMax, modalys, and overtone; there was an interesting conversation about whether the choice of implementation language was restricting the userbase, particularly for tools such as OpenMusic where the normal interface is a graphical one but a large fraction of users end up wanting to customize behaviour or implement their own custom patches.

And then it was all over bar the dinner! On a boat, sadly immobile, but with good conversation and good company. The walk home in company was fun, though in retrospect it was probably a mistake to stop off at a bar for a nightcap... the train journey back to the UK the following morning was definitely less productive than it could have been; closing eyes and letting the world go past was much more attractive.

But now I'm on another train, going off to record the complete works of Bernadino de Ribera. Productivity yay.