Notes from CFP

Although I haven’t been in too many years, CFP is probably my favorite conference for three reasons.

One is sentimental. Back in the day, when I was trying to decide if I should make my hobby my job and try to write about computer law, despite never having taken a course in it and a total lack of relevant legal practice experience, I noticed a conference announcement on one of the USENET groups I frequented (yes sonny, this was before spam and before the web) for the third CFP, and noticed that a couple of the panels were on legal topics. So I figured I’d go to see what the state of the art might be. With the exception of Stewart Baker, then the general counsel of the NSA, the state of the art was fairly dire. And while Baker was smart and eloquent, I disagreed with much of what he said. I went home convinced that I could play in this league. (In a nice piece of ksimet, Baker will be speaking this evening.)

A second reason is that CFP has the greatest hallways. There are some conferences where people spend every minute in set-piece events, but CFP builds in some shmooze time. Plus lots of us never make it into the plenaries. I remember one glorious CFP when I missed every talk but my own. But I learned a lot. Indeed, the price of missing the talks is not as high as you would expect: CFP has great presenters, but the level at which the talks are pitched is if not elementary at most intermediate — it is a public and interdisciplinary event, one in which experts try to popularize what they know. I find when I go to the talks, I learn the most about the subjects I care about the least, because I have not studied them myself. In first two hours here, just chatting with folks, I learned several things relevant to my work; and the pace has barely slackeened since — when I’m in the hallways.

And the third reason is social. I can’t think of another event where I see a larger number of friends, colleagues, and kind people who over the years have been good enough to explain things to me. It’s a chance to catch up, and learn about the new and exciting things they are doing. Not to mention the new people: last night, at the EFF reception I spent a wonderful half hour chatting with Vernor Vinge, one of my favorite science fiction writers. He doesn’t look or sound as I would have imagined, but he’s every bit as interesting to talk to as one might have hoped.

It has been a very, very long time since I attended a conference at which I wasn’t speaking. Being a speaker imposes a brutal rhythm on an event: nervous before, tired after. How much more fun to kick back and be a passenger for once!

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