by Tom and Frank
When people hear the name Aspen, most of them will think about high society and skiing. Especially during winter season that might be an appropriate description of this small town surrounded by snow-covered 4000 meter giants in the Rocky Mountains. In late spring, after the snow crowd left, you will find scenic Aspen taking a breather: quiet, nearly deserted and most winter and fashion stores in the city center are closed. But there is a week in May, where a horde of C++ enthusiasts gather there for the C++Now. It’s a non-profit conference that was initiated as BoostCon by Dave Abrahams and Beman Dawes in 2006 as a forum for the Boost community to meet face-to-face. In 2012, it was opened to general C++ topics accompanied with a renaming. It is organized by Boost and the Software Freedom Conservancy and chaired by Dave Abrahams and Jon Kalb. The conference is still limited to 150 attendees, which makes it a great place to get in touch with C++ experts and some of the most influential people of the C++ community. All sessions are held either in the Paepcke Auditorium of the Aspen Institute or the buildings of the Aspen Center for Physics that are scattered around it in the meadows outside of Aspen.
Out for a road trip
After the good experiences I had at C++Now 2013, we were glad that ESR Labs sent us to attend this year’s C++Now and sponsored the trip. As the conference started on a Monday evening with registration and informal gathering, we could use the weekend and arrived a couple of days early for a short excursion through the neighboring state Utah. We visited Arches National Park, took the venturesome Moki Dugway up the Cedar Mesa and followed an insider’s tip to Muley Point, offering breathtaking views over curling San Juan River, the desert landscape of southern Utah and northern Arizona with Monument Valley in view distance. We hiked to the Sipapu Bridge (world’s second largest natural bridge) within Natural Bridges National Monument, visited Capitol Reef National Park and had a great time at Bryce Canyon, hiking to the ground of Bryce Amphitheatre and watched both sunset and sunrise for some fantastic pictures and time lapses.
Back to Aspen, we caught up with some known faces from two years ago and got acquainted with the other attendants. The first “real” conference day started with a short welcoming speech of Jon Kalb, followed by a very special C++Now session: Library In A Week (LIAW). Jeff Garland invented this format for the very first BoostCon with the goal to create the groundwork of a new Boost library with all interested attendees during one week. It was so successful that it became an institution coming up every year since then.
The talks were divided into two main categories. Either they described, how the Standardization Committee and Boost are driving the development for future language extensions or they showed some practical use of modern C++14 features. Here are our favorites in both categories:
Future of C++/Boost
Andrew Sutton: Concepts Lite
Before Andrew joined the University of Akron as an assistant professor, he was working as a postdoc researcher together with Bjarne Stroustrup and Gabriel Dos Reis at the Texas A&M University. Their work focused on language support for generic programming. Concepts Lite is a language extension to allow the programmer to add some formal properties to templates for formal verification and improved compiler diagnostics.
Eric Niebler: Ranges
Eric is a C++ library expert and currently working for the Standard Foundation on Ranges for C++. They will add lightweight views on container classes without the need of iterating over them. They will presumably become available as part of STL 2.0 with C++1z or even later.
Louis Dionne: Boost.Hana
Louis is an incredibly smart, franco-canadian college student from Quebec who received a scholarship by Boost to work on the library Hana during his studies. He proclaimed a paradigm shift in meta programming by using his library which intensively utilizes new language features of C++14/1z.
Scott Schurr: constexpr
Scott is an embedded software specialist at Ripple Labs (Portland, OR) and he demonstrated some examples where the constexpr feature of C++11 and especially C++14 can be used to execute computations at compile time.
Sebastian Redl: switchAny
Sebastian from Vienna is a contributor to Clang, a Boost library maintainer and currently finishing his master thesis. To solve a real world application, he demonstrated the usage of Template Meta Programming in this hands-on session. He used nearly all TMP variants to create a small toolset which can switch on a type contained in a Boost.Any holder.
Boris Kolpackov: A new build system for new C++
Boris is CHO (Chief Hacking Officer) at Code Synthesis in Cape Town (South Africa) and proclaimed the new cross-platform build system he’s currently working on.
Around the conference
Other remarkable things for us were Tuesday’s dinner in White House Tavern, talking to Chandler Carruth (C++ Language and Compiler Lead @ Google) about his work at Google, the new CppCon and the insanity of ISO C++ meetings. At the infamous picnic on Thursday Louis Dionne was shocked that we thought he was French. And Jeff seemed unable to moderate his LIAW session the next day after having “quite a few beers” with us:)
All presentation material can be downloaded via GitHub and the video recordings will be made available on YouTube. By viewing these you might get an idea of the knowledge that was transported during the C++Now. But you have to travel to Aspen, meet these people in person and talk to them during coffee, lunch and dinner breaks to get the full picture of this unique experience.