I just got back from Tampere, Finland where I was one of the program chairs for EMSOFT, an embedded software conference. If I haven’t blogged about this much, it’s because I’m sort of a reluctant and not especially talented organizer of events. Happily, EMSOFT is just one third of the larger Embedded Systems Week, so logistics were handled at a higher level. Also happily, I had a co-chair Florence Maraninchi who did more than half of the work.

Visiting Finland was a pleasure; people were very friendly and the beer was good. On the other hand, Tampere wasn’t that easy to get to (~24 hours travel time from Salt Lake City) and my pessimistic expectations for October at 61°N were met: every day it was drizzly and not a lot above freezing. I saw the sun about once while in Finland, and by the time I left the days were noticeably shorter than when I arrived. I also hadn’t realized how far east Finland is: it’s only a four-hour drive from Helsinki to St. Petersburg. I found Finnish to be hilariously indecipherable, I hadn’t realized how much it differs from other European languages. I also hadn’t realized that everyone would just start speaking Finnish to me; apparently I fit in appearance-wise. Previously this has only happened to me in Germany and Holland. In general, however, everyone spoke perfectly acceptable English.

The conference was nice. Embedded software is a research area that I like a lot, though it can be a tricky one to appreciate due to a larger diversity of research approaches compared to other areas. For example, my view of OS research is that there’s a shared view for how to approach problems, even if there is a lot of variety in the actual problems being attacked. Embedded software isn’t like that. One of the topics we’ve started to see at embedded software conferences that I really like is looking at the robustness of software from the point of view of ensuring that bounded changes in inputs lead to bounded changes of outputs. This isn’t a notion that makes sense for all kinds of software, but it can be applied for example to feedback controllers and some kinds of signal processing codes. Robust control is an old idea but applying the technique to actual software is new. I’ve long believed that the lack of sensitivity analyses for software is a problem, so it’s great to see this actually being done.


  1. Do you have a specific pointer to suggest for the idea that you are mentioning on robust control? I know that “robust control” in general is a “synthesis” technique for controllers – which means that the actual control system is “designed” to behave correctly or at least not to misbehave in the presence of perturbation of the nominal conditions.

    I am not sure I got the “applying to software” part correctly. It seems to me that if you have previously designed the feedback controller to be robust that you’ll have that property. Otherwise you don’t. But you are talking about robustness as a property of the software and not of the mathematical controller, did I get that right? That would be certainly very cool.

  2. I’m surprised at your surprise that people would start speaking to you in the country’s language. That seem the only natural thing to me (if I meet someone in country X, and have not heard them speak before speaking myself, I would of course assume they’re speaking language X). Why would you expect otherwise? I would in fact find the opposite behavior strange (assuming people are foreigners because of how they look), and even possibly offensive for foreign-looking people living there.

  3. Hi Gasche, I’ve simply observed that in most countries I’ve been to, including many in Europe, several in Asia, and one in Africa, that people look at me and assume I don’t speak the language. It doesn’t bother me since in most cases it’s convenient.

  4. I guess that Finnish is indecipherable for many Europeans as well. It is closely related to Estonian which, for us Lithuanians, still remains a mystery despite of the common history within the Baltic states.

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