CUSEC 2010

This year, I attended CUSEC for the 4th time, two of which I was an organizer. Even though the target audience is students and I graduated what feels a really long time ago now, I still wait avidly for the event every year. The conference isn’t really ever technically in depth, I see it as an opportunity to see some trends. Every single time, it seems to have a perfect mix. It tends to hook onto the new technologies and hypes. After all, the program is made up by students.

This year, I think everyone would agree that the highlight was Greg Wilson with a very strong invitation to raise the bar and ask for higher standards from software research. Very few quoted studies are actually statistically relevant in any way. I had seen the session before at Dev Days in Toronto (it was around 90% identical). I would see it again. Perhaps, there would be even fewer FIXME notes in the slides. Greg is currently in the process of publishing a book on evidence in software engineering practice to be published as part of the O’Reilly Beautiful * series. The book does not yet have a name, so I can’t pre-order on amazon and that’s truly disappointing.

One of the lower visibility session I found interesting was IBM’s David Turek on Blue Gene and scientific processing. Many discarded the session because it was given by a VP. Now, I don’t really care about scientific calculations. I believe it’s important, but it’s not where my interests lie. I am almost certain I will never use Blue Gene. However, what I found interesting was to see how they tackle extremely large problems. Basically, the objective is to have supercomputers with 1000 times the computational capacity we have today by the end of the decade. Using current technologies, you would need a nuclear power plant to provide it.

Finally, Thomas Ptacek’s session on security was mostly entertaining. It was one of those 3 hour session compressed into one hour. I don’t think I could catch everything, but he went over common developer flaws and how simple omissions can take down the entire security strategies. He concluded with a very useful decision making process: if your encryption strategy involved something else than GPG and SSL, refactor. It’s one of the problems I always had with cryptography APIs. There are too many options. Many of which are plain wrong and irresponsible to use. On the other hand, he was quite a pessimist during the question period, saying there is no hope to create secure software using the current tools and technologies. All software ever made eventually had flaws found in them.

One of the most troubling moments of the conference for me was to see how much some people can be disconnected. I actually came across a software engineering student (not a freshmen) who did not know what Twitter was. Not only did he not know, he had never heard of it. How is that even possible? I don’t use Twitter. I use an open alternative, and I’m not that much into microblogging. However, I do believe it somewhat reached mainstream. You can hear the word while watching news on TV. I really need to lower my assumptions about what people know.

Next conference for me will be, where I will be presenting two sessions and struggling to choose which of 8 sessions to attend every hour for 3 days.

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