Strange Loop Conference

9/27/2010 Alyssa Eade

Alumnus Alex Miller puts on the Strange Loop conference to connect cutting-edge research in industry and academia.

Written by Alyssa Eade

The Strange Loop Conference, run by software developer and Illinois computer science alumnus Alex Miller (BS 96), has been described as a “who’s – who of interesting people doing applied computer science.” This is the second year the conference is being held in “the Loop” in St. Louis, MO and promises CS students a fun opportunity to explore application areas in an industry where ideas are really put to work, as well as a chance to connect with an amazing group of developers from all over the world. Strange Loop intentionally brings together cutting edge research from academia and cutting edge application in industry.

You might be wondering though, what is “the Loop,” and why does this conference have such an unusual name? Alex Miller, St. Louis resident started this conference for many reasons, one of which was to build the St. Louis developer community and to promote the city itself. The Strange Loop name comes from two sources.

The first is Douglas Hofstadter’s book “I Am a Strange Loop,” which defines the concept of a “strange loop” as a self-referential hierarchical system and postulates that a strange loop in the brain is the essence of consciousness. The second is the area where the conference takes place, known in St. Louis as “the Loop,” which was at one time the loop at the end of a streetcar line-- thus the name for this software development conference.

Miller was inspired to start this conference by his uncle Al who battled a rare kidney disease for most of his life. “Al had an amazing vision of what must be done and he convinced [others] to take ownership of something they didn’t even know they could do. It struck me like a thunderbolt. I don’t want to just create a conference, I want to inspire and support others to create their own communities and events,” said Miller. 

In addition to creating the StrangeLoop conference, the Miller currently works for Revelytix, creating federated data integration products using semantic web technologies. “I spend the bulk of my time right now working specifically on the SPARQL- SQL query planner. I also run the Lambda Lounge user group for the study of functional and dynamic languages and the Clojure Lunch Cljub in St. Louis. Also, I like nachos” says Miller. He has fond memories of the university like living at Townsend Resident Hall and spending time at Record Service, Garcia’s, and the Courier Café.

2009 was the inaugural year of the conference, which was also held in the Loop, but in a restored 1920’s movie theater called the Tivoli. Strange Loop 2009 sold out at 300 attendees and featured keynote speakers Alex Payne from Twitter and Bob Lee from Google.  Both speakers will be returning this year, Payne as a panelist to discuss BankSimple and Lee to present his current job at Square.

Strange Loop 2010 will take place October 14th-15th, and the content of this year’s conference will be influenced by the creator’s interest such as: emerging languages, alternative data storage, the use of “big data” and machine learning to build the next wave of web apps, concurrency, scalability, web, and mobile.  The Strange Loop Conference also has a “Strange Passions” track where attendees may submit a 10 minute non-technical talk, selected by vote, and the crowd favorites win a Strange Loop Klein bottle. Last year’s “Strange Passions” talks included topics like astronomy, neurons, options trading, and building houses in Mexico.

Strange Loop 2010 features keynotes by industry luminaries like Guy Steele ,influential in the development of Lisp, Scheme, Fortran, Java, ECMAScript and other important languages, and Douglas Crockford ,creator of JSON and author of "JavaScript: The Good Parts.”  The conference schedule can be found at ( and includes talks on emerging languages, nosql databases, web, mobile, and more.

The conference website is  Tickets are $190 through September 24th, $250 thereafter, but the student rate is $100 at any time. 

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This story was published September 27, 2010.