I just spent a fantastic 24 hours at the "Tools for Thought" workshop at the Recurse Center (née Hacker School), hosted by +Michael Nielsen. Not a single weak talk, nobody reading email during talks, a mix of young and old — just perfect. Here are all the speakers, with a brief note about their talks (I can hardly do them justice):

Ken Perlin — His new Chalktalk system/language, and his vision for how virtual and physical reality will have to interact in the future. His model is of human conversation and spatial interaction.

+Ned Gulley — Some findings from the programming contests MathWorks has hosted. Through competition, they create a culture of shared creation and, effectively, of cooperation. A vision of flowers in a garden that invite bees in to cross-pollinate.

Robert Ochshorn — His view of what abstraction is: we tend to view it as a kind of forgetting, but we can also view it as a kind of episodic slices through a creation. Expressed magnificently through a variety of film edits and remixes, with Jean-Luc Godard prominently employed for startling effect.

Hannah Davis — A magnificent question with compelling answers: how do we “hear” a novel? How do we capture the emotional pitch of a novel, and how do we turn that into something recognizably music (both in depth and in harmony)? Peter Pan and Heart of Darkness pressed into service.

Elena Glassman — An intriguing investigation of how we need to work with the large numbers of programs that have become the new normal in introductory courses. How can we cluster them, identify typical elements of the cluster, and show variation? How can we get students to talk about such choices as variable naming?

Christopher Olah — Neural networks and media. The thesis that neural networks squish space in interesting ways, beautifully illustrated. How do we understand and visualize them, beyond just dimensionality reduction? Do neural networks generate new forms of media, not ones seen by users but manipulated by neural network software?

Jonathan Edwards — There's a power-law of our software needs: lots of trivial programs, and exponential decrease towards complex programs. We have a lot of work on the two ends of the curve but are badly missing the middle. Considers the domain of mobile social apps. Showed his new Transcript language as a realization of his vision.

Katherine Ye — The language of proof assistants as a tool for thought. Structured as a formal debate, and provided a startlingly honest of the good and bad of what they offer and engender. Offered her views on where they need to go.

Joe Edelman — Rethinking what we're trying to get out of systems. A trenchant analysis of natures and goals that should help us make user interfaces that serve us better. Maybe if they asked us good questions they could guide us to use our time better.

Jamie Brandon — A tough assessment of lessons learned from several recent interesting programming projects, such as LightTable and the transition to Eve.

r0ml — Languages are primarily means for communicating with computers, not users (pace Abelson and Sussman). A tour of three languages of the future from the past: APL, Scratch, Mathematica. Why are they still in our future? (And why will we pay $2000 for a laptop but not $200 for a language that makes us program effectively on it?)

Kevin Kwok — A new continuous programming environment in the browser, supporting JavaScript and MIT Scheme. Great support for in-browser Matlab-style scientific computing.

Regrettably, I had to miss Steven Wittens to catch my train back. And I spoke too (about how the HtDP design recipe echoes traditions of design in various other disciplines in ways we don't normally practice in programming; about in-flow peer review to rethink programming education; and the relationship between the two).
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