CUSEC 2008

Montreal, Programming

CUSEC 2008

Yesterday marked the end of CUSEC 2008, a three day software engineering conference for Canadian university students. While the conference has been going annually since 2002, this was my first year attending. I had initially planned to be quasi-live blogging the whole thing, but I hadn’t realized how busy the three days were going to be. Instead, here’s a quick recap of some of the terrific people I heard from at CUSEC.

Day One

  • Tim Bray – Hard Problems in Network Computing
    One of the co-editors of XML, he gave a great talk about some of the difficult problems that programmers are having little success in solving. I don’t remember the exact words he used (relying on my brain was a bad idea, I plan to take better notes next year), but the main problems were communication between different programming languages and taking advantage of parallel processing.
  • Dr. Marsha Chechik – Guarding Against Software Accidents
  • Zed Shaw – The ACL is Dead
    Author of the Mongrel web server and notorious blogger, he talked about staying creative in the face of bureaucracy and corporate greed. The part of his keynote that really struck a chord with me was that “managers want all of your creativity, but trust none of your judgement.” I had a chance to talk to Zed later at Brutopia and a little throughout the conference, he was a really cool guy with a lot to say. Here’s hoping he comes again next year.
  • Bruce Miner – Taking Risk

Day Two

  • Sylvain Carle – We Didn’t Start The Fire
    A self-described “venture technologist”, he talked about why we should consider founding or working for startup companies.
  • Michel Martin – The Evolution of Large Scale Business Software
  • Dr. Peter Grogono – Living with Concurrency
    This talk was a bit over my head, but it really made me appreciate what a problem concurrency is and will be in the coming years. Dr. Grogono is one of the most loved computer science teachers at Concordia, and after hearing him speak I can understand why.
  • Dr. Jeffrey Ullman – When Theory Matters
    Prolific textbook writer and Ph.D. advisor of Sergey Brin (co-founder of Google), Dr. Ullman spoke about the theory of how Google’s PageRank system works, as well as variations such as minhashing and locality-sensitive hashing.
  • Jeff Bailey (Google Corporate Speaker) – Hacking on Open Source After Graduation
    He talked about the history of OSS and why major companies like Google and IBM invest millions to develop it. I had always been interested in contributing to an open source project, but after hearing his talk I feel compelled to begin doing so within the next few months.

Day Three

  • Zed Shaw – Factor Tutorial
  • Dr. Jeremy Cooperstock – Music & Games: How Fun Applications Stimulate Core Technologies
    I really enjoyed this presentation, he began by talking about how the video game industry has been accelerating technological progress, which included some of his own research into the “next step” of virtual reality. The meat of his talk, however, was about his research into ways of overcoming network latency to allow people in separate parts of the world to play music and talk together naturally.
  • Jon Udell – Hacking the Noosphere
    Another talk that was a bit over my head, he spoke about keeping the focus of Web 2.0 and information sciences on people, and how we can gather information in a human-centric way.
  • Jeff Atwood – Is Writing More Important than Programming?
    As a big fan of Coding Horror, I had been looking forward to this talk from the beginning. In his keynote, he argued that writing for people was in many ways more important than writing for machines, and that it is crucial to “convince other people that your code, in a world positively overflowing with free code, is worth looking at in the first place.” His talk provided a counterpoint to some of the more technical presentations, and was a fantastic way to close the conference. Better yet, his talk inspired my friend Malini to pick up her abandoned blog again!

I can’t believe how much I learned in three days. Hearing from passionate people and being in a community full of fellow coding geeks has really inspired me to be creative, take chances and really explore the world of software engineering. I’ll definitely be attending CUSEC 2009!

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Montreal Tam-Tams

Montreal, Music

Montreal Tam-Tams

Every Sunday in the summer, hundreds of people gather around the statue of Sir George-Étienne Cartier on Mount Royal. The assembly doesn’t have an official name, but it’s called the Tam-Tams by most. The focus of the event is the drum circle, a free-style jam where anyone can bring a hand-drum and start playing along; it’s not unusual to see over a hundred drummers at one time. The rest come to listen to the music, dance, play some hacky sack or frisbee and just enjoy the great outdoors.

Along with the Jazz Fest (which I wrote about earlier), the Tam-Tams are part of a complete summer experience in Montreal. The event has a great vibe, Mount Royal park is beautiful, and overall it’s quite possibly my favourite use of a Sunday. If you’re ever in the city, do yourself a favour and check it out.

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A Night in Montreal

Montreal, Music

Montreal at Night

Montreal is a fantastic city in the summer; it has four universities downtown, a great selection of bars, clubs and venues, and a fairly unique mix of English, French, and a thousand other languages. With the F1, Just For Laughs, Francofolies and (most importantly) The Montreal Jazz Festival in town, there is no shortage of fun things to do.

I got to sample three of my personal favorites iconic Montreal institutions yesterday, so I figured I’d write about them:

Carlos & Pepe'sCarlos & Pepe’s

Carlos & Pepe’s is considered by many to be the best Mexican restaurant in Montreal. It has great food, large portions, cheap drinks and it’s easy on the wallet. I had a great chicken quesadilla with rice and a salad, and that put me back only a little over 10$.

Montreal Jazz Festival

The word “jazz” is used loosely here, considering invited artists this year include Bob Dylan and Van Morrison. Personally, I think that the variety helps make the festival even better. There is jazz, blues, world, and soul music on a half-dozen stages, and all of the outdoor concerts are free! I only had time to wander for about an hour or two, but I managed to check out four interesting bands:

  • Montreal International Jazz FestivalJodi Proznick Quartet: I’m not a huge jazz fan, but these guys played the kind of jumpy jazz that’s really fun to listen to. The bass player, Jodi Proznick, was fantastic.
  • Ragleela: “Indian ragas” music, apparently. Wasn’t really my kind of thing, but it was interesting to listen to, with the sitar and tabla.
  • Shakura S’Aida: This band was really fantastic. The singer had a terrific set of pipes, and the perfect voice for the kind of blues and soul they were playing. They had a great organ/piano man who did some really fun improvisation, and they mixed in some really great guitar solos. I’ll definitely look for them again next year.
  • Jah Cutta & Determination: I only had a chance to watch these guys for a little while. They were playing on the “tropical” stage, so it was highly Caribbean influenced music. While I can’t say I’m a big fan of the genre, the audience was really responding to them.

Brutopia Brewpub

Brutopia BrewpubI love a good beer. Two of my favorite Montreal bars, Brutopia and Les Trois Brasseurs, both brew fresh beer on site. I’m not a beer connoisseur by any stretch of the imagination, but if you like beer and haven’t tried microbrewed beer, I can’t emphasize how badly you need to go out and try one. They’re roughly a billion times better.

That night I tried two fantastic beers. The first was a Scotch ale, which was a dark red beer. I lack adequate vocabulary to properly describe a beer, but it combined everything I love about a red with the qualities of a darker beer. The second, which they called Great Plains, was an unfiltered wheat beer. I had never tried a wheat beer before, but I really enjoyed the distinctive taste.

Stephen Barry Band BluesvilleNot only was the beer fantastic, but they had a great live blues quartet playing. They were called the Stephen Barry Band, and they all looked old enough to be grandparents. Apparently that night was their 32nd(!) anniversary playing together. They played a terrific set, lots of classic covers, and with four instruments (guitar / bass / drums / sax) they made a great simple-yet-full sound. I thought so much of them I went to see them during a break and bought their latest album off them, Bluesville.

There you have it, one fun night in Montreal. Happy Canada day!

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