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Volume 11, No.2

Conference Reports

by APL94 (Antwerp)

APL 94 Roundup: Impressions of Antwerp

by Anthony and Sylvia Camacho

We delayed going to press by a couple of days to get this preliminary report to you. We hope to include a selection of photographs in the next issue.

The world having pressed heavily on us during the three months before the Conference, we left our booking very late. As always we had awkward questions such as how to deliver the delegate copies of Vector, and how to arrange for the British APL Association’s promises to the Russian Fund to be fulfilled. To all our challenges Rita Peys and the Conference Office responded patiently, promptly, and in impeccable English. We should like to take this opportunity to thank her and her staff for their support.

The Highlights

You discover what was outstanding about a conference by listening to how you describe it to others. By this standard the highlight of APL94 was nothing to do with APL: it was the cultural evening – which Sylvia will long remember as the occasion “when I laughed so much I feared my contact lenses would be washed right out of my eyes”. Take my advice, never miss a chance of attending a performance of “The Frivolous Raspberry”. This duo did spoofs, take-offs, send-ups, pastiches and gross injustices to a huge range of music from Schubert Lieder to a 10-minute “Traviata” which contained bits of every opera you have ever heard in the best Anna Russell tradition ... They pretended to have forgotten the tune of the William Tell overture, and to re-construct it from Phil Benkard’s humming!

As for the serious Conference business Sylvia was impressed by the energy and success with which the Japanese have been promoting APL, particularly among schoolchildren. Also the continuing work that Walter Spunde has received funding for in Australia; his down-to-earth advice on teaching undergraduates should be heeded. In addition the competence and enthusiasm of the Russian students makes the continued support of the APL community there seem well worth while. But the highlight was to watch and listen while Gérard Langlet issued challenges to several scientific disciplines with his inimitable verve, and of course ≠\.

The Venue

The Conference Venue, very imposing and elegant, was perhaps not quite in keeping with the informality of most delegates to these APL occasions. However, the opening plenary session was intriguing and very aptly reflected the artistic surroundings. The Province House is a very grand provincial government building. The plenary theatre was huge, with excellent facilities (except that, as usual, the screen display wasn’t sharp enough). The other rooms were also comfortable and well-furnished. The corridors and open spaces were decorated with works of art, and there were attendants to prevent you from taking coffee where it might damage the decorations if spilled. The Province House closed early so the sessions at the end of the day could not be extended - people in distant hotels had to leave early to be sure they would not miss the bus. The meeting place was 15 minutes’ walk away so, except for events that took place there, it was not much used.

The delegates stayed in five hotels. Some were within walking distance. The cheapest (where we stayed) was about half an hour away by bus; we were pleased with it. I am sure the facilities could have handled a conference of three times the numbers: there were 164 names in the list of participants and maybe a few people turned up at the last minute or for single days.

The Programme and Presentations

Fair comment on the programme would only be possible if three people between them attended every session. I fear my choice may have been unfortunate. APLers on the whole need more rehearsal than they get, and care too little about their audience. Many times someone from the audience had to ask for a larger font on the display or to focus the overhead projector.

The plenary sessions were mixed. The opening plenary was a brilliant survey of the loose connection between symbolism and ideas. It was full of superficial or deep ideas according to your point of view. “The consequences of the symbols are the symbols of the consequences.” [L. von Bertalanffy 1965] For my part I cannot see how the insights of the artist can produce useful scientific advances. In hindsight one can say “Ah: he foresaw what Einstein discovered” but, like the prophecies of the I-Ching, you never know what they really foretell until it has happened.

The panel on the future of APL was a disaster – a disconnected set of comments by clever people, some of which had some force – but no resolution of any disagreements and no possibilities of reaching any. One rather wondered whether Phil Benkard was right to say the future of APL is its past.

Other plenaries were sales pitches (Soliton, Arthur Whitney, Dyadic, Iverson Software, Manugistics and IBM) or history (APL in Japan and Origins of APL2).

The SigAPL Meeting

The open SigAPL meeting was introduced in a very upbeat way by Dick Bowman. SigAPL have done wonders. QuoteQuad appears on time or even early. The bank balance is rising. Membership has been stabilised (i.e. it is no longer falling). There is a location for APL95 (San Antonio). Regrettably there was nothing after the introduction. Nobody knew the bank balance or how many members there are or what procedure is used to choose a location for APL96.

The Banquet

The banquet, boisterous and with excellent food, was also the occasion for the presentation of the SigAPL Outstanding Achievement Award.

The restaurant was a long way outside Antwerp in a restored farmhouse. There was champagne (as at the Welcome reception), the food was excellent, and – as always – the company was marvellous. Stuart Yarus presented the SigAPL Outstanding Achievement Award to Donald McIntyre. The audience was obviously delighted by the choice, and Donald charmed them with his response. Apart from having done so much for APL and J, Donald is very well liked, has done a great deal unpaid, without hope or expectation of gain, and has no enemies. Many APLers are altruistic and like to see it recognised. It was also nice to hear the J work that Donald has done in the citation.

The banquet was very expensive at £52 a head. Indeed, the conference in general was a very expensive one and I suspect some APLers who would have had to pay for themselves may have been deterred by the price. I nearly was, myself.

The Arrangements

Practically everything ran very smoothly. Those in the know attributed this to Rita Peys and her secretary. We owe them our thanks and also thanks to Alain Delmotte for organising the programme.

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