One attendee's views of the 6th annual USENIX Tcl symposium

In broad terms, the symposium provided a setting where Tcl enthusiasts from distant places could gather, meet, and exchange myths. For some, it was an opportunity to renew old friendships, and for many, a chance to put a face on yet unseen newsgroup casters. Being my first Tcl conference, I was excited to put faces on many of the better known Tcl pundits. How is it that a subliminal expectation of another's appearance can form based solely on newsgroup castings? Bizarre . . .

The conference was well organized. It seemed all badges and information packets found their intended recipients in a timely fashion. The tightly maintained schedule effectively controlled the movement the nearly 300 attendees. The resulting conference momentum continued for five days while large groups of people moved between breakout sessions. I found the scheduling structure refreshing and am grateful to those who facilitated its enforcement.

Tutorial Program

Having same-room access to the people who created some of the most sought after extensions in the Tcl community is quite a learning opportunity. Given the choice, I would have eagerly attended all tutorial sessions. This kind of exposure just has to rub off!

However, in the spirit of continuous improvement, I must confess a slight disappointment regarding these sessions. The use of overhead projectors in this setting was sub-optimal. Live video demonstrations, where cause and effect is clearly delineated would have facilitated knowledge transfer. In the hands of an expert, the Tcl interpreter projected on a classroom wall is a powerful learning aid.

Furthermore, and this is a minor point, a standard presentation format for all sessions would have been appreciated.

  1. Introduction
  2. Target Audience
  3. What is Covered or Not Covered
  4. Presentation Outline
  5. Caveats Declared
  6. Heart of the Matter

Getting beyond the upgrades, let me say that the tutorial sessions were chaired by true technical experts. Access to the thoughts of so many experts in such close proximity was worth the price of admission in and of itself.

Technical Session

The technical sessions were great fun. However, I admit that going in I had certain hopes. For one, I hoped to gain a sense of community with those who were using my tools of choice. For another, I hoped that hearing the experiences of real people struggling with many of the same obstacles that have slowed my progress would be heartening. Further, I hoped that listening attentively to speakers who have been where I am bound would save me precious time and resources tomorrow, and finally, I hoped to find that precious spark of inspiration in the work others.

I must confess, the sessions delivered on all counts, and in a most entertaining way. The NBC presentation of the Genesis project quieted any unspoken doubts I had regarding the viability of Tcl in an industrial real-time environment, and the AMD presentation of WinACIF/SLAC and Tcl's role in the development cycle of telco line cards hit especially close to home. I found that inspiration I was looking for in this talk.

John Reeke's Tyco Slate presentation, George Howlett's BLT extension, and the work presented at a couple of the Work-In-Progress sessions made me want to rush out and rework my current project's pathetic GUI.

BTW, I did find that sense of community I was looking for. I guess I should not be surprised at just how important meeting people remains to be, regardless of the revolutionary impact of the Internet.

In conclusion

San Diego's Mission Bay, and the Paradise Point resort in particular, was an exceptional conference setting. Surrounded by water, walking out of any conference room involved a walkway that extended out above bay waters. The warm sun and cool breezes combined with ocean vistas to provided a tranquil setting that facilitated the cordial interaction of conference participants, and proved a welcome respite for many family members. Even though this was my first Tcl conference, I suspect the Paradise Point facility set a high water mark, one future conferences should strive to attain.
Written by Lars Blasingame, 18 September 1998. Adapted for WWW by C. Laird
[more references to come]