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EmacsConf 2021

EmacsConf 2021 happened in November last year. Same as last two years, it was an online conference. Thanks to all the volunteers and organizers, it was a great experience.

EmacsConf is the conference about the joy of Emacs, Emacs Lisp, and memorizing key sequences.
EmacsConf website.

It was a 2 days conference with 45 talks in total. Despite being a thanksgiving weekend, the peak count of attendees was around 300. The talks were scheduled in a sequence based on categories. They were prerecorded with captions.

Pre-conference work

In 2020, I worked on captions for the talk recordings after the conference along with formatting some of the talk pages. This year I started taking up things related to EmacsConf from September last week. Before that, I was helping PyCon India.

This year we had asked all the speakers to provide recordings (prerecs) of their talks. This was going to allow us to caption as many talks as possible before the conference. Prerecs also help in case of technical issues on the conference days, allow to accommodate speakers from different time zones, and more.

Video captions

Since I had worked on captions last year, I picked up the talks as speakers started sending those in. Majorly, Sacha was taking care of captioning the talks, and we (few volunteers) were coordinating with her via email, IRC etc.

Editing the captions is a slightly slow process for me. I decided to work on 10 minutes talks. So that even if I need more time, I can take it to completion and don’t get stuck with a single talk for a longer period of time. That way, others who are faster than me can focus on longer talks.

Initially I started doing captions solely with the intention to help the conference in some way. Later I found it a bit interesting, and writing captions from scratch is fun too. I also picked talks which are after lunchtime, which is nighttime in IST. That’s the time when I would be sleeping on the conference day.

I use the subed Emacs package to edit the subtitles, this year I used Sacha’s functions to ease the editing, you can read about it on the Captioning tips page.

I was passively involved in the other activities, like reading the IRC discussions, reading the weekly meeting notes (till I started working on PyCon). Basically, I was a spectator since the time planning of the conference was started.

Attending the conference

My set up for attending the conference was the same as last year. But this time I had an external monitor with lower resolution, and I was using mpv instead of VLC.

There were 2 streams, main (480p and 720p) and alt. Etherpad was being used for taking notes and asking questions. The IRC channel #emacsconf was being used for interacting with other attendees.

Leo (zeaph) was streaming the conference from his machine. He was using OBS with multiple scenes. I liked the way he had all this setup. There was a nice background image, EmacsConf logo in one corner. The screenshare and video size was sufficient during the live Q&A. All this was an improvement over last year.

Q&A of the montessori talk Q&A of the montessori talk

Screen with music, timer during the break Stream during the break with music visualizer and timer

Another very nice thing was the extended Q&A in a BigBlueButton (BBB) room. These were streamed to alt as well. Attendees could join these rooms and interact with the speakers real-time. I liked these rooms because they are like hallways in an in-person conference, and often have interesting discussions. Sacha and Amin were taking care of these.

Yuchen had setup an alternate stream in the APAC suitable timing with some talks. I was able to catch only the last few talks as it was 05:30 to 12:00 IST. I wasn’t able to help with the stream this year, but this is something I might help with next year.

Talks

The talks on similar topics were grouped together and arranged in a sequence. The first day started with beginner-friendly talks like Emacs News Highlights, and then philosophical talks, later followed by Org mode, research, academics, and more. The second day was more focused on development talks. Kudos to the organizers, especially Sacha for coming up with such a nice schedule.

As we had the prerecs of the all the talks with us, it was possible to make the videos available immediately after the talks. The talk videos were up on the EmacsConf website first and then other platforms like PeerTube. This was a huge improvement compared to last year.

As always, all the talks were interesting and engaging. Here is a list of talks I liked the most, it is very hard to come up with this list.

  1. Emacs News Highlights - Sacha Chua
  2. The True Frownies are the Friends We Made Along the Way: An Anecdote of Emacs’s Malleability - Case Duckworth
  3. GNU’s Not UNIX: Why Emacs Demonstrates The UNIX Philosophy Isn’t Always The Only Answer - Daniel Rose
  4. Emacs and Montessori Philosophy - Grant Shangreaux
  5. How Emacs made me appreciate software freedom - Protesilaos Stavrou
  6. Org as an executable format - Tom Gillespie
  7. The use of Org mode syntax outside of GNU/Emacs - Karl Voit
  8. Using Org-mode to teach programming - Daniel German
  9. Reproducible molecular graphics with Org-mode - Blaine Mooers
  10. Finding Your (In)voice: Emacs for Invoicing - Bala Ramadurai
  11. Productivity Dashboards with Emacs and Kindle - Mehmet Tekman
  12. Emacs with Nyxt: extend your editor with the power of a Lisp browser - Andrea
  13. Emacs development updates - John Wiegley
  14. On the design of text editors - Nicolas P. Rougier
  15. Yak-shaving to a UI framework - Erik Anderson
  16. Emacs Lisp native compiler, current status and future developments - Andrea Corallo
  17. Turbo Bindat - Stefan Monnier
  18. Imaginary Programming - Shane Mulligan
  19. How to help Emacs maintainers? - Bastien Guerry
  20. How to build an Emacs - Fermin MF
  21. M-x Forever: Why Emacs will outlast text editor trends - David Wilson (System Crafters)

Just this list won’t do justice with all the talks, so head over to the Everything from EmacsConf 2021 page for a list of all the talks.

Initiatives

Conferences often spark some discussions which result in new initiatives or projects. Before we talk about this year’s initiatives, let’s see some updates related to last year’s initiatives.

  • The Usergroups page on EmacsWiki has details about usergroups around the world. There is also Emacs calendar, which has all the known upcoming events related to Emacs, and can be imported into calendar app.
  • FOSSHost provided a BigBlueButton instance to EmacsConf, which is being used for EmacsConf meetings, usergroup meetups, and projects related to Emacs.
  • Thanks to the efforts of consolidating usergroups, we (Emacs APAC) came up with our own place on the internet (https://emacs-apac.gitlab.io), so that it is easy to find more details. We also started using the BBB instance provided by EmacsConf organizers. Also, I started taking care of organizing the monthly Emacs APAC meetups.

This year, some discussions have started around organizing the EmacsConf infrastructure more effectively. Take a look at emacsconf-org mailing list archive to find out more about it.

That’s all I know as of now, and there might be more to it.

Thanks to everyone involved in making the conference a great event. All the talk and Q&A videos, IRC, BBB discussions are available on the EmacsConf website at https://emacsconf.org/2021/all. I was happy to see that more people showed interest in helping with the post-conference stuff this year. If you would like to help, head over to Contribute to EmacsConf 2021 page, and reach out!


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