Off the Beaten Track 2016 program chair's report

Good morning! Welcome to OBT 2016.

OBT, of course, stands for Off the Beaten Track, but of course we all know that it is Obviously the Best Track at POPL 2016.

OBT is the work of many people. I want to thank everyone who served on the program committee: Nada, Ken, Suresh, Limin, David, Emma, and Noam. They all volunteered their time to review about six talk proposals each.

As some of you know, this is the fifth year of OBT, which was started by Dave Walker and others in 2012. I got a lot of help and advice from the people who’ve chaired OBT in the past: Swarat, Shriram, Ranjit, and Dave.

Let’s give all of these people a hand.

I also want to thank all of you for being here. As of last night, 43 people were registered. I also heard that there were a few people who had their flights cancelled and registered for OBT this morning!

We had fourteen talks submitted this year, which is a couple more than last year, although I don’t know numbers going back further than that. We accepted nine of those. We also have two keynote speakers, Chris Martens and Bob Atkey. I want to thank all our speakers, as well as everyone who submitted a talk.

Finally, I’m very proud to announce that this year OBT had a sponsorship from Intel Labs — who is also my employer — of $5000 to reimburse speaker travel expenses. I want to say just a little about this.

Here’s the way it worked: everyone who submitted a talk had the option of applying for funding. The funding process was entirely disjoint from the talk acceptance process; the program committee didn’t know who had applied for funding. So, in other words, we had a “need-blind” talk acceptance process.

Of those talks that were accepted, it turned out that about half of them had a speaker who had applied for funding, and I’m happy to say that everyone who applied for funding received it.

This is the first time that OBT has been able to offer speaker funding, and indeed this is the first time I’ve heard of an academic venue, especially a workshop, offering funding to all speakers. My hope was that this would mean that more people will submit talks to OBT, especially people who might not have attended OBT or POPL otherwise. And indeed, our submission numbers are up a bit this year, and furthermore there are a number of talks from people who are attending OBT and POPL for the first time. So I believe that this experiment was a success, and for those of you who have the opportunity to serve as program chairs, I encourage you to try this at your next workshop or conference. I also want to thank Annabel Satin and Ras Bodik for helping with the paperwork to make this happen.

So, we’re going to get underway with our first keynote talk in a moment. Before we do, I want to ask your help with another experiment for the rest of the workshop.

There are pens and index cards on the tables and chairs next to you. During the talk, if you have questions for the speaker, write them on the cards. At the end of the talk, pass your cards to the session chair, who will choose questions to read. The speaker can keep all the cards afterward, if they want to.

We’re doing this for a couple of reasons. I’m hoping it works well for people who have good and thoughtful questions, but are anxious about taking the mic. It also limits the length of the question, which is sometimes necessary! Finally, it gives the speaker a record of the questions asked, and optionally a name so they can get in touch with the asker afterward.

This is an experiment, and we’ll see how well it works!

Any questions?