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Reflections on StarCon 2019

This past weekend I went to Waterloo for StarCon 2019. StarCon is in Waterloo, CA (about 2 hours from Toronto by vehicle of some kind) and consists of 15 minute talks. It was inspired by HelloCon, which was inspired by !!con (pronounced “bang bang con”).

The tickets were super affordable (less than $20) so I made the decision to go. I took notes for every talk, but I’ll group them a bit rather than go through each one.

Keynotes

There were two keynotes each day (so 4 total). Three out of four of them knocked it out of the park for me, especially Nasma Ahmed‘s talk, “Navigating an Equitable Digital Future.” I wrote down many notes and some follow on questions to ask. Check out her work with the Digital Justice Lab, for sure.

The other keynotes I loved were on learning from Vaideshi Joshi of the BaseCS project (which I just had recommended to me recently! Such a great project) and on making a “hype doc” from Aashni Shah.

Shah’s hype doc approach was interesting in how it sounded similar to my bullet posts, but the goals she framed for it were very interesting. I had an extremely interesting chat during social times about the roles of information, power, and trust, relating to that talk, and I feel like the sign of a really great talk is if it makes other people talk.

Day one favorite talks

One of my favorite talks from day one was on unlocking your ROM by Bradley Dettmer. He also wrote about this if you’d like to check it out in that format. It was also super heartwarming that Brad is a Write/Speak/Code alum, which is so awesome!

My other favorite talk was Creative Coding, with Doug Moen. He showed his custom software, Curv, and mentioned the demoscene, which is a rabbithole I’m lately looking into. Moen was a great speaker, and I loved his “and now it’s a box!” type demos of making 3D art.

Day two favorite talks

Day two had so many good ones! Outside of Nasma’s keynote, I loooved Aaron Levin’s talk about making file systems, and using FUSE (file system in user space) to do so. The demo was really lovely, and featured cats.

Chris H-C’s talk on collecting data responsibly was great and I must mention it in this write-up so I can tell you about leandatapractices.org. Having collected lots of user data in my time, having a process that puts user privacy first sounds wonderful.

I also enjoyed Manish Goregaokar’s talk about implementing the Trusting Trust attack in Rust, which is a paper I’ve read but haven’t implemented, and so it makes me wonder about implementing it. But Goregaokar didn’t do a demo in his talk, so it felt very frustrating at the end! (but 15 minute constraints, etc. etc. but demo!!!!)

Falah Shazib’s talk on “How not to build a virtual escape the room” was so funny and so relatable for building a project. It was just so well done, and truly enjoyable to watch. Definitely one I would recommend watching the video for.

(I warned that I liked a lot of talks on day two a lot, I kinda want to add some other ones here and might later, but you can see the schedule online to see what else was there)

Conclusions

Absolutely completely worth going to! Yes, I did get to see lots of Recurse Center friends, but the content and thoughtfulness of this conference were just so wonderful. All-gender restrooms! Stenography! So much more! You can really tell how much care the organizers put into everything by these visible things, but then I know there must be so m

I would definitely recommend going to StarCon as an attendee or speaker (and really especially so if you’re in the Waterloo community!).

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