Day: June 17, 2007

The HackDay weekend

A very good, long weekend at HackDay in London – many thanks to Yahoo! and the BBC for staging the event, the Alexandra Palace staff, BT and Cisco for the facilities, and all of the people who attended for making it a success.

I’d hoped to run a short breakout session yesterday if we hadn’t been interrupted by the dual lightning bolts (clearly there was a message right there)… I’d put together a short presentation on what we were doing there as IBM developerWorks, but we met a few folks anyway whilst out in the Palm Court… unfortunately we probably weren’t able to show off some of the stuff that we had to demonstrate thanks to the earlier instability in the network, and by today when we were all fixed up, everyone was very busy with their hacks – our team included!

Presentation and scheduleAnyhow, it was amazing to see just what people had hacked together and we were stunned by the number and the quality of the hacks. I have to say that I missed a number of the presentations due to getting ours ready at the side of the stage where the acoustics were not good, and because I was popping in and out of the hall during some of the talks. However, here are just a few of the ones that particularly caught my eye:

Flickr Captcha, using Flickr tags to retrieve images and then asking the user to “select the image that looks like…” rather than the mangled text that we all know and hate.

The Plazes bunny / MyBlogBunny hack that caused the Nabaztag to speak the owner’s location and who had visited his blog lately. Very cool. I want a Nabaztag. Anyone want to donate me one? 😉

Yowl, like Growl for OS X but using the YUI to build the notifications.

The antispam filter for Yahoo! Pipes.

FlickrTunes, which raked in 3 awards (I think).

iWondr, the Twitter bot that is also omniscient. Maybe.

(unfortunately you’ll note that some of the ones I found especially interesting are the ones without links in the wiki!)

And the 2 non-technical, but very cool hacks… Beagle3, the planned multistage rocket, which ingeniously incorporated the Yahoo!/BBC APIs by putting them on a USB memory stick inside the rocket… and the Top Gun paper-based user interface with built in “zoom” (click with a pen, and flip to a drawing of the area of the image in more detail!) and “downloads” (roll up ball of paper and throw into the audience!). I loved those 🙂

I’m sure I’ve missed so much that was exceedingly cool, and I need to explore the HackDay site in more detail to find out what the other hacks were.

Since I went home overnight, I missed the cameraderie, the Doctor Who showing which did actually happen later in the evening, the music that apparently woke people up, and finding out what a lot of the teams were up to. Huge respect to those who hacked through the night! I hope you all get a decent rest now.

It was a shame to miss the band as they sounded great in rehearsal. I’ll be checking for photos and reports later. It was also a shame to miss meeting people. One suggestion I’d have is for the registration to include badges next time – it wasn’t always easy to meet or find people without a means of identifying them. In particular I did want to say hello to Jem Stone… I saw him in the West Hall before the lightning hit on Saturday morning, but couldn’t find him after that. Another time.

Now, I wonder what I missed at Interesting 2007…?

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We just presented our team’s hack for HackDay in London…

An awesome team effort inspired and led by Paul Johnston and Nigel Crawley. A mixed reality naval game from the Supernova team.

Here’s the science part.

Camera rig The real world part(s) of the hack involved a DV cam feeding Nigel’s G4 iBook with a live feed of some pieces which represented two teams, “crabs” and “sharks” (cut from O’Reilly postcards). The camera rig – managed by Jon Hadley – was a highly technical setup involving gaffer tape and a borrowed tripod – thanks to Twitter! The iBook then used the TUIO protocol to update the coordinates of the game pieces to a web server.

The second RL part of the hack was my MacBook Pro rigged with Quicktime Broadcaster and Darwin Streaming Server, pointing at the game board. This provided a video feed that could be used within Second Life. This was technically challenging to set up due to issues connecting between the laptops on the BTOpenZone network… so someone donated us an Airport hub (again following a Twittered plea for help), and I shared my connection with Jim Purbrick who was then able to tunnel through to Second Life, as well as seeing my Quicktime stream. We experimented with a cheap USB webcam too, but the iSight just worked a lot better (positioning was “interesting” though!)

View from the blimpMeanwhile… in Second Life, the team of Jim Purbrick, Ben Hardill, Chris Mahoney and James Taylor built an amazing setup. We had a floating blimp (on Arcanum, the sim that Linden Lab had donated for the Hack Day event). The blimp contained a table which showed the live video feed of the game being played in real life. Below that, the sim was submerged. During the demo, Babbage Linden showed off the live feed, and then flew under the blimp. When he hit the floating buoy, a group of submarines were rezzed in that corresponded with the movement of the pieces in real life. Oh, and the subs were named after names found via the Yahoo! Answers API.

We didn’t quite have time to sort out the audio, but there were supposed to be some sonar noises as the subs were rezzed. Pretty easy to add, but we got moved around a couple of times prior to the demo, and had to disassemble our rig each time.

Someone managed to capture the blueprint for the hack on camera.

Oh, and as a complete aside – it is interesting to see the distribution of hardware and operating systems at the event. I’d say Macs dominate, Windows are probably second (I’ve only seen one running Vista but there may be more), and there are quite a few people running Linux too. Almost all of the demos and presentations seem to be run from Macs. W00t!

I had a spot on stage earlier in the afternoon as the “glamorous” helper for the MyBlogBunny hack, holding the Nabaztag – thanks Lance 🙂

[ edit 19/06 – links and photos added, minor edits ]

[ edit 21/06 – added some more links to interesting Flickr photos ]

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