Inaugurating the Haskell Sessions

There’s an interesting spectrum of events in the technical space. Conferences are the mainstay obviously; usually very intense and high-calibre thanks to the hard work of papers committees and of course the presenters themselves. You become invigorated hearing the experiences and results of other people, sharing ideas in the hallway, and of course the opportunity to vehemently explain why vi is better than emacs over drinks in the bar later is essential to the progress of science.

For a given community, though, conferences are relatively infrequent; often only once a year for a given country (linux.conf.au, Australia’s annual Linux conference, say) and sometimes only once a year globally (ICFP, the international functional programming conference with numerous collocated symposiums and events taking advantage of the fact it’s the one event everyone turns up at is a notable example in computing).

More locally, those in major cities are able to organize monthly meetups, networking events, user groups, and the like. Which are fun; lovely to see friends and continue to build relationships with people you’d otherwise only see once a year.

Finally there are hackfests, often on the order of a weekend in duration. The tend to draw people in from a wide area, and sometimes are in an unusual milieu; Peter Miller’s CodeCon camping and hacking weekends are infamous in the Sydney Linux community; rent a small quiet generator, find a state forest, set up tents and hack on whatever code you want to for a few days. Blissful.

The local monthly events are the most common, though. Typically two or three people offer to give presentations to an audience of 30-50 people. And while hearing talks on a range of topics is invaluable, the fact that so many smart people are in the room passively seems a lost opportunity.

For a while now I’ve been musing whether perhaps there is something between meetups and hackfests. Wouldn’t it be cool to get a bunch of people together, put a problem on the board, and then for an hour go around the room and have a debate about whether the problem is even the right question to be asking, and different approaches to tackling the issue? Something short, relatively focused, and pragmatic; rather than being a presentation of results a consideration of approaches. If we do it in a bit of rotation, each time one person being tasked with framing the question, then over time participants each have the benefit of bringing the collective firepower of the group to bear on one of the problems they’re working.

Needs a name. Seminar? No, that’s what university departments do. Symposium? Too grand. Something more informal, impromptu, but organized. You know, like a jazz jam session. Ah, there we go: gonna call these sessions.

It might be nice to complement the monthly functional programming meetup (fp-syd) that happens in Sydney with something a little more interactive and Haskell focused. And as I’m looking to improve the depth of experience with Haskell in the Engineering group at Anchor, this seemed like a nice fit. So we’re holding the first of the Haskell Sessions tomorrow 2pm, at Anchor’s office in Sydney.

Here’s one to start us off:

Industrial code has to interact with the outside world, often on external dependencies such as databases, network services, or even filesystem operations. We’re used to the ability to separate pure code from that with side-effects, but what abstractions can we use to isolate the dependent code from the rest of the program logic?

I know we’re not the first ones to blunder in to this; I’ve heard plenty of people discussing it. So I’m going to hand around a single page with the type signatures of the functions involved at various points, freshly sharpen some whiteboard markers, and we’ll see what ideas come to light!

If you’re interested in coming, drop me a line.

AfC