els2015 it happened
It turns out that organizing a conference is a lot of work. Who’d
have thought? And it’s a lot of work even after accounting for the
benefits of an institutional
division, who managed things that only crossed my mind very late:
signage, extra supplies for college catering outlets – the kinds of
things that are almost unnoticeable if they’re present, but whose
absence would cause real problems. Thanks to Julian Padget, who ran
the programme, and Didier Verna, who handled backend-financials and
the website; but even after all that there were still a good number of
things I didn’t manage to delegate – visa invitation letters, requests
for sponsorship, printing proceedings, attempting to find a
last-minute solution for recording talks after being reminded of it on
the Internet somewhere... I’m sure there is more (e.g.
overly-restrictive campus WiFi, blocking outbound
TLS-enabled IMAP) but it’s beginning to fade into a bit of a blur.
(An enormous “thank you” to
Richard Lewis for stepping in to
handle recording the talks as best he could at very short notice).
And the badges! People said nice things about the badges on twitter, but... I used largely the same code for the ILC held in Cambridge in 2007, and the comment passed back to me then was that while the badges were clearly going to become collectors’ items, they failed in the primary purpose of a badge at a technical conference, which is to give to the introvert with poor facial recognition some kind of clue who they are talking to: the font size for the name was too small. Inevitably, I got round to doing the badges at the last minute, and between finding the code to generate PDFs of badges (I’d lost my local copy, but the Internet had one), finding a supplier for double-sided sheets of 10 85x54mm business cards, and fighting with the office printer (which insisted it had run out of toner) the thought of modifying the code beyond the strictly necessary didn’t cross my mind. Since I asked for feedback in the closing session, it was completely fair for a couple of delegates to say that the badges could have been better in this respect, so in partial mitigation I offer a slightly cleaned-up and adjusted version of the badge code with the same basic design but larger names: here you go (sample output). (Another obvious improvement suggested to me at dinner on Tuesday: print a list of delegate names and affiliations and pin it up on a wall somewhere).
My experience of the conference is likely to be atypical – being the responsible adult, I did have to stay awake at all times, and do some of the necessary behind-the-scenes stuff while the event was going on. But I did get to participate; I listened to most of most of the talks, with particular highlights for me being Breanndán Ó Nualláin’s talk about a DSL for graph algorithms, Martin Cracauer’s dense and technical discussion of conservative garbage collection, and the demo session on Tuesday afternoon: three distinct demos in three different areas, each both well-delivered and with exciting content. Those highlights were merely the stand-out moments for me; the rest of the programme was pretty good, too, and it looked like there were some good conversations happening in the breaks, over lunch, and at the banquet on Monday evening. We ended up with 90 registrations all told, with people travelling in from 18 other countries; the delegate with the shortest distance to travel lived 500m from Goldsmiths; the furthest came from 9500km away.
The proceedings are now available for free download from the conference website; some speakers have begun putting up their talk materials, and in the next few weeks we’ll try to collect as much of that as we can, along with getting release permissions from the speakers to edit and publish the video recordings. At some point there will be a financial reckoning, too; Goldsmiths has delivered a number of services on trust, while ELSAA has collected registration fees in order to pay for those services – one of my next actions is to figure out the bureaucracy to enable these two organizations to talk to each other. Of course, Goldsmiths charges in pounds, while ELSAA collected fees in euros, and there’s also the small matter of cross-border sales tax to wrap my head around... it’s exciting being a currency speculator!
In summary, things went well – at least judging by the things people said to my face. I’m not quite going to say “A+ would organize again”, because it is a lot of work – but organizing it once is fine, and a price worth paying to help sustain and to contribute to the communication between multiple different Lisp communities. It would be nice to do some Lisp programming myself some day: some of the stuff that you can do with it is apparently quite neat!