Wednesday, June 13, 2007

HOPL III and a tipping point

Last Saturday and Sunday I attended ACM's third History of Programming Languages conference (part of the Federated Computing Research Conference running this week). HOPLs only come along every 15 years or so (1977, 1993, 2007).

It was a wonderful conference. It was great to meet again so many old friends and to meet and learn from so many language designers I knew of, but didn't know, and hear how their languages came into being and what had influenced them. There were clear differences in assumptions, but members of all the different camps were respectful of each other. (Perhaps the most potentially fraught session was the one consisting of Niklaus Wirth speaking on "Modula-2 and Oberon" and Bjarne Stroustrup on "Evolving a language in and for the real world: C++ 1991-2006.")

Let me mention just one other somewhat unusual aspect of the conference: When I registered, I was given the usual conference tote bag, with room for a laptop and a few 10-lb proceedings volumes. Then I was handed the conference papers--in the form of a thumb drive. It contained all the papers for HOPL III, but also, since that consumed only 11MB on a 256MB drive, they threw in as a bonus the final proceedings (including transcripts of the actual presentations and of the question and answer sessions) for both HOPL and HOPL II. Unfortunately, the drive does not contain Fran Allen's Turing Award address (which followed HOPL III), but it was carefully videotaped and I expect ACM to make it available somehow soon; there were a couple thousand people in the audience. (The HOPL II proceedings and HOPL III papers are all available in the ACM Digital Library.)

It seems to me that we have now passed a tipping point in scientific publication; it will become routine to distribute, not just conference papers, but also the previous proceedings (perhaps even all the referenced papers), to conference attendees. And pretty soon they'll stop handing out those tote bags...

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