Tag Archives: hackday

Hacking your input and outputs

Hacked... Learn, Build, Share

I had the pleasure of supporting and attending Hacked.io which was a hackday in the most traditional sense of the word. Run by the Geeks of London for 02 Labs, it couldn’t have been more fitting to hold it at the 02 arena (the old millennium dome). Now I knew the plans ahead of most people but I didn’t really think that I might have been a good part of the inspiration for the event.

Melinda broke it down for Ankur Oberoi at 5am.

“Ian use to run Geekdinners which we use to go to. Then went on to run BarCampLondon 1, 2 and 3. After which he ran the first hackday and over the air. Most of the Geeks of London went to the events and once Ian moved on, he passed on geekdinners to me and Cristiano. So we did that and formed the geeks of London. Then we took over Barcamplondon. Now I guess we are taking over hackday. Taking it back to the original idea of sharing ideas and knowledge” (power phrased of course)

On the walk back to the hotel at 5:30am I thought about this… Not only am I delighted to be a inspiration but I’m also over the moon that they have given these events a level of professionalism and sustainability which I could not. No matter what I say about hacked.io, I was blown away by the little things and the ultimate aim of open sharing.

I’m kind of gutted I didn’t hack something myself, but talking to people I learned a bunch of things and some of those things I’m following up with.

Hacked.io promised a lot and deliver much back many things…

Very long queue outside Hacked.io

Of course this is the same team which mainly wrote the controversial hackday manifesto. So it would make sense to compare Hacked.io against there own thoughts…

Announcing the event
Once you know when and how your event will take place, you’ll want to tell the world about it. At a bare minimum, you should decide on a canonical place where all public information about the event lives – this might be a dedicated web site, an event on an existing event online service or some other place which is publicly accessible.

Once you’ve decided where that location is, use tools like Twitter and Facebook to make people aware of the event, and also consider which Google Groups and mailing lists developers relevant to your event may be hanging out. Don’t spam them, though – nobody enjoys that.

On Announcing everything seemed perfect. Everything you needed to know was at hacked.io and the almanac seemed to have all FAQs ready to go. I also felt they hit the right level of communication. Not too much and not too little. Maybe from a supporter side a tiny bit more might not have gone a miss. But generally it was all good.

Registration was cool but my allergy information did get post in the mix. And I did feel sorry for those who were waiting in the massive line for a long while.

The venue should be relatively easy for people from outside of town to locate, with good public transport links. If it’s difficult to reach, try to provide alternative means of transportation, such as coaches to/from local transport hubs throughout the event. Provide a full address, and if necessary, additional instructions to all attendees well in advance of the event.

Include instructions/contacts/getting in arrangements, too (i.e., what to do at reception/security desks).

Print big signs that will guide your attendees to the venue (and in some case inside the venue).

Hacked.io starts

The venue was top class and a dream to be able to use. The transport links to the 02 are great and I do remember the first time Cristiano and Kevin told me they were looking to use the 02. I was gob smacked. How on earth did they pull that one off?  I had looked at the 02 when we were working on Hackday but it was far too expensive. Transport wise its got plenty going for it and heck its easy on the tube. Many signs and even billboards pointed people in the right direction. There were even helpers guiding people to the right place. Of course getting back was easy even at 5:30am due to the 24hour buses which run to central London when the tube stops.

Of course the venue was accessible with lifts and what not, maybe the stage needed a lift too? And I found the security staff quite firm but nice. I think they were a little bemused by the whole event.

Date clashes. One of the most frustrating things for attendees to see is two similar events on the same day in the same area. To avoid this, check places like Lanyrd, Eventbrite, Meetup, and ask on Twitter “is anything going on in X on X?”. Remember that people may be travelling long distances for hack days, so even if an event is a few hundred miles away, you are still diluting your potential audience.

Always a hard one to solve but they got it out there early enough and the only clash I saw was with Mozilla’s Party Hack which I believe was cancelled when the clash came to light.

If attendees are staying overnight, then a separate (dark, quiet) area should be available away from the hacking should people decide to sleep. If possible, this should be several areas potentially including dedicated areas, for example male/female/mixed, minors (+chaperones?), snorer/non-snorer, night-owls/early birds.

I didn’t check out the sleeping arrangements because I stayed up till 5:30am then walked to my hotel in Greenwich. I noticed there were areas upstairs for sleeping and I assume they were separated or whatever. While downstairs was a place for hacking all night. Of course some people fell a sleep at their computers.

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The Network. Hack days have special requirements: don’t just trust anyone who tells you that “it’ll be fine”. Think about the networking issues, and verify that they work for the kind of capacity you are going to have. People from the venue or their commercial partner will tell you all sorts of things you want to hear but keep in the back of your mind that they may not have any clue what they are talking about. Given the importance of network access, if you are operating a commercial event consider requiring network performance as part of your contract with venues and suppliers.

One of the bug bears of almost any hackday event. Unfortunately hacked.io was effected pretty badly by 2.4ghz wireless problems. There was a figure banded around estimating 4 devices for every single person in the room. That means supplying wireless for 2000 devices! When we did hackday we estimated roughly 2 devices per person. There seems to be plenty of bandwidth in the backend pipe, because once plugged into a switches (the solution to most of the problems) it was fast and reliable. I had to download the JDK and I blinked and it was downloaded.

So what was the problem? Seems some device was spitting out packets into the 2.4ghz space and disrupting the network at the same time. I have some experience of this when the Nimba virus was prevalent and daily Ravensbourne IT staff would have to go find the suspect before they switched to 802.11x authentication. Nimba would just consume the network and all its resources, before you knew it. All spare 802.11 space was crammed with packets

They had the best guys involved in the networking and wireless. Nexus Global networking battled away till most of the machines were on wired network but it was a black eye on a perfectly run event.

Power wasn’t a problem thankfully, lots of spare power sockets all over the place.

Food & Drink…Not everyone in the technical community is hypercarnivorous. Be sure to check with your attendees for dietary requirements: food allergies, vegetarians, vegans and people with dietary restrictions. Make provisions to ensure they are provided for equally. If you’re on a budget, prioritise allergies and vegan alternatives; the vegan alternative will satisfy most non-allergy based requirements. Common food allergies include milk, eggs, nuts, fish, shellfish, soya, and wheat (gluten).

Food was good (mainly salad pots) and there was pizza as a midnight surprise. The dinner was good because there was tickets for 4 different restaurants in the dome. But most people said the portions were quite small and seeked out more food elsewhere. For example my work friends were lucky to get the thai silk tickets which I gather were in high demand. GBK seemed to be 2nd. Last place was dinner at the 02 lounge Which I got stuck with. The last thing I really wanted to eat was mash potatoes and sausages. Weirdly I couldn’t mix the food according to the lady serving!

For the midnight surprise Pizza hut delivered Pizzas but the word didn’t quite get out so quickly so most of the meat ones were gone and we were left with cold pizza. That will teach me to sit and chat upstairs.

There was some confusion over alcohol too but it worked it self out. There was plenty of Fruit and Chocolate, Crisps, Soda and Water around all day and night too.

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APIs and Datasets was a interesting angle because unlike other hackathons, there was no set API or datasets to play with. You could use what ever you liked but there were challenges for those who couldn’t think of something themselves or needed to be challenged.

Hacked.io demos

Anyone who hacks should be a allowed to Demo at the end of the event, regardless of the quality or completeness.

Each demo should be given a fixed time limit, standard times are 60, 90, 180, and 300 seconds. Tell presenters ahead of time, let them know how much time remains (either half time cards or an on-screen count down), and don’t let them run over.

Try and communicate clear expectations for the demos to all attendees from the beginning of the event. Some attendees will become frustrated when they see others demo-ing paper prototypes or Photoshop mockups when they believed a working implementation was required. If hacks do not meet these base requirements, they should not be able to win a prize.

The demos were by the book. I was very impressed by the use of Hackerleague. Never used it before but I like it a lot. Now if Lanyrd and Hackerleague could connect together… 90 secs was about right for each hack. The only down side was being split up from the hackers presenting but honestly it was for a short time only.

I was really impressed with the range of hacks, I wrote some down which I’d like to follow up on from a BBC point of view and of course hackerleague makes it nice and easy to follow up.

Hacked.io demos

The amount of Philips Hue hacks was impressive and makes sense because I think a lot of people thought it was a totally closed system which was tied to Apple. The amount clearly points the fact Hacked.io was comfortable. People were willing to take more risks and actually learn something new. That makes hacked.io a success right? A return to the learn, build and share ethics of hackers.

I’d also like to say it was amazing all the extra effort the team put in. There was a theme of dogs over cats, be more curious, plus fun and fake facts in the toilets, magically boxes on the tables, the tag line everywhere and finally the first 100 through the door got a prize! Talk about attention to detail! Now thats how you run a hackday!

Massive thanks to the Geeks of London, 02 and everyone who attended and made it a great event. Like everyone asked me after hackday, so whens the next one?

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Feel inspired by, I am, I do…

The Hodge ping’ed me on gtalk today and pointed me at a hack He and Caius had done for Honda Hack day

Its called I am, I do…

What is this?
I am, I do is a user edited database of stories, advice and inspiration of people following their dream. We started by asking people we knew who are doing what they love to answer a few questions and put them in a nice database for you to read, sort, store and share but we now want to open it up to everyone who is doing what they love, it doesn’t have to be working for yourself, if you love your job then let us know! You might inspire others
Why did you do this?
I’m inspired everyday by the people in my social circle, when I have a question or want to try something new, I can reach out for advice and one of them has probably done something similar before, we think there are a lot of people in similar situations who want to do something but are just missing a bit of inspiration
Anything else?
We would love schools and job centres to point people at this website and show the stories of people who have switched jobs, careers, countries to do what they want and that if your dream is reasonable, your dream is possible, you’ve just got to work at it

Its a simple but a great/noble idea… No fuss, fill in the questions and attach it to your profile (which is tied to your Twitter account). I spent about 30mins filling out about 8 questions, and you can see the result here.

It weirdly reminds me of something like the early days of OK Cupid when you would fill in questions about yourself. Of course the aim was very different in that case, it was all about getting a date but underneath that, it was about defining yourself. The aim of I am, I do is purely to inspire others. I do expect if it became bigger, some would use it as a place to show off but why? There’s nothing to gain from lying or showing off… This is good!

Some will dismiss it, as pointless because it doesn’t have badges or scores but I say excellent… Its simply a place to read inspiring stories from people you may or may not know.

As I was saying previously, we are all amazing and opportunities to learn a little more about each other should be the end point. Its the richness of life…

Great work Dom and Caius… don’t be tempted to add achievements, metrics, scores or anything else like that… You only have to look at the mess something like Klout has gotten its self into.

On the question: What has been your biggest achievement to date and why was it special?

I don’t care to count my achievements by size… Some of the tiny discussions I’ve had, have changed peoples directions. It might only be one person but that person might do something incredible and become something they never thought they could be in the past… I’m happy that I can help inspire others to be the best they can be. Some of this might be through London Geekdinner, BarCampLondon/Manchester, my work at BBC Backstage including Hackdays, etc, etc. I expect there will be many more chances to inspire in the future.
I really mean it, our fascination with size and instant impact is like a drug (I guess it also feeds the ego). I’d certainly welcome quality over size in some cases.

Banging the drum for Media Freedom and the Web

I was very excited to invited to the Mozilla Festival which this year was in London. Not only that, it was in South East London.

The Mozilla Festival use to be the Drumbeat Festival but got a rename. The event is something between a un-conference and a hackday. A whole series of challenges which people can duck in and out of. Challenges ranged from Data Journalism to Disc Jockey hacking (ironically both DJ).

Dj Challenge

I headed up the DJ (disc jockey) challenge which was first formulated quite some time ago on behalf of BBC R&D and FutureEverything.

The challenge was to reinvent or at least evolve dj’ing. We started the challenge on Saturday afternoon and it kicked off with a little stimulus from myself and others in the form of a modified presentation. On top of that, we pointed to the Google Doc, which was an aggregation of thoughts from not just myself but many others including BBC staff.

That list is still available if your interested in getting involved in the challenges.

Andy

But what came out of the challenge were 2 very strong ideas…

  1. Can we create a format which supports tracks or layers in songs, then build Dj software which takes advantage of them.
  2. Can we build a club environment which makes use of sensors to feedback to the Dj and Vj in real-time through meaningful visualisations
More were talked about but these were the strongest ones, and these are the ones which will be taken forward hopefully into the Future Everything festival next year.
The theme for the conference/hackday was around media & web freedom and there was a question how does the Dj challenge fit into this? Well I gave the example of my pacemaker…

Dj Challenege

A few of us were looking at the problem of what you do with mixes once there finished? Actually one of them was from Mixcloud.com and we were exploring the idea of licensing, etc but we started to think what other ways can you experience mixes? One idea was to map locations to places in a mix.
On my pacemaker, I’ve done mixes walking through locations such as the wrong end of irlam mix. Imagine if it had GPS, so you could map sections to a location. When the mix is uploaded, it could lead people through an artificial version of my journey. So you could experience that moment when the bus streamed past and almost knocked someone over :) How exactly this works, we don’t know, but that’s the challenge…

Hugh

This for me is the effect of the web on Djing, perfecting fitting into the media and web freedom ethos.
The challenge asked a lot of the people who did attend and frankly if I was to do it again I would size down the challenge down to a few core areas and work on things which can be done in the 90mins we had. Mozilla did allow us to run over 2 days and we have some ideas did run through-out them.
Moving away from the Dj challenge for now, I didn’t get much of a chance to attend the other challenges, but they sounded great. There was a real feel of excitement in the air and the location of Ravensbourne added another layer to it all.

Mozilla Festival

Here’s some of the other stuff which looked very interesting to me…

This Javascript library is looking very impressive and the documentary combining Popcorn with WebGL was impressive. I can only imagine what Adam Curtis could do with this… I’ve made a note to check it out in detail soon. I also think it could be useful in the area of Perceptive Media.
Its another one of those Javascript library’s (seems to be a trend). This one is a nice gaming framework, its still in alpha but it slightly crosses over with the BBC R&D universal control spec from what I saw in the demo.
Hyperaudio links written text with the spoken word. This means you can edit a audio file like how you edit text. Its quite magical when you see it, and would make a great tool for remixing
Teaching young people through standard web technologies how to change the web and make it there own. I think of it like One Laptop Per Child’s Sugar but less programmatic…
Although this wasn’t in the event, I found them from one persons suggestion and then when I went to look up the Eatery I found it again. Its like Creative Commons for privacy, interesting…

Mozilla Festival

Unlike Hackdays where everyone gets a chance to demo there hacks to everyone else, the Mozilla festival had the challenge leaders stand up on stage and give a brief overview of the best ideas and prototypes. On the Saturday night there was keynotes from a whole bunch of people including Tim Hunkin. Everything was good till a guy from the Tech City commission or something started going on and on… Wrong place and wrong time to do a pitch for how great silicon roundabout and techcity are… Frankly I would have liked to have thrown a popcorn.js rubber toy at him because it was so out of tune with the rest of the event. Of course I didn’t do that… but it was bad. Honestly if I caught his name, I would be naming and shaming…

Luckily all the rest of the keynotes and presentations were actually good to excellent.

The event finished with the Dj challenge taking control, because we didn’t have anything built I Dj’ed on my pacemaker along with the Alphasphere guys putting on a performance on stage. If we had thought about it a bit more, we could have Jammed together but alas maybe another time? Maybe at the Future Everything festival…

Congrats to the Mozilla crew, it was great and certainly a highlight. Mozilla’s mission is a good one and something we can all get behind. I was surprised how many people I know from Yahoo, Ebay, etc who are now working at Mozilla. Although it was very adhoc it kind of worked…

I look forward to next year…. Excellent work Michelle, Dees, Alex and a whole host of other cool Mozilla people. It was a honour…

A hackday for Djs…

Recently I’ve started thinking its time for a hackday around djing… And BBC R&D should be interested in the idea. So instead of writing a paper I started writing a presentation quickly giving an overview of some of the justification why I felt a hackday was a good idea and what aspects of djing could do with hacking…

A lot of people have said, but surely there’s already music hackday… why would you feel the need to do something around djing…? Surely that fits into music hackday…?

Well yes it could do, but music is maybe too broad for a dj hackday… On slide 2 and 3, I push the idea of djing and recorded music oppose to making music. I’m quite rude about Alberton live which I don’t mean to, just think there’s so much more to the future of djing that making music.

I hope to improve the presentation which was done mainly for Social Media Cafe Manchester. There was quite a bit of insulting vinyl and thats not my aim really, and theres a lot more thinking around feedback mechanisms for djs which I need to add. Anyhow, you can read the PDF on slideshare.

Is Design really seedy?

Blackbelt Jones wrote this great post about Seedcamp and the lack of design involvement.

From the Seedcamp about pages:

“There will be a diverse mentor network of serial entrepreneurs, corporates, venture capitalists, recruiters, marketing specialists, lawyers and accountants that will help the selected teams put together the foundations of a viable business.”

How about designers?

Technology plays alone are starting to lose their distinctiveness in many of the more-crowded areas of the marketplace.

Great service and interaction design are on the rise as strategic differentiators for products as diverse as the iPhone and Facebook.

He's right, The only thing desiresable about the iphone is the interface, the technology is under powered or frankly from 2005. Thankfully its not all bad.

The line between hackers and interaction designers is blurring as they start small businesses that are starting to make waves in the big business press.

As I mentioned, my experience of HackDay Europe was that

“It really does seem that the hacker crowd in London/Europe at least is crossing over more and more with the interaction design crowd, and a new school of developers is coming through who are starting to become excellent interaction designers – who really know their medium and have empathy with users.”

This reminds me of my made up position name while at Ravensbourne, Designer/Developer. At the time I design was far too form based while development was far too programming based. Web designer meant you created HTML pages, Information designer meant you didn't actually touch any data or apis and Interaction designer meant you were too focused on art, hanging out in Hoxton and convince your clients they were always wrong. Things have changed for the better. The grey area between design and development
has been intersected by a 3rd force the hacker. So now you get pursuits like hardware hacking, alternative reality games, product user interface hacking. The fact is that its not about the titles, its about what vision you have in your head and how much effort your willing to put in to it.

Business-wise I think we have yet to see what affect the greying of design, development and hacking will have on startup culture.

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Hackday officially live – sign up now

hackday in Sunnyville

As previously mentioned on the backstage blog. Hackday.org is now official and you can sign up and grab yourself a ticket now.

The dates are the weekend of the 16th – 17th June at Alexander Palace (yes now it makes sense why I had pictures of the venue on my flickr stream)

Its a partnership between Yahoo! Developer Network and BBC Backstage, which we've been developing for quite sometime. Matthew Cashmore, Tom Coates, Matt McAlister and many others have been involved in this from the start.

As the hackday.org site says, stimulation will be provided in Food, Drinks, Feeds and APIs. Like BarCamp, you are welcome to play werewolf sorry hack or (sleep) through-out the night. Tomski's already offered his shower for Sunday morning. Its going to be a very cool event. No I won't
be doing a live DJ session from stage 1 afterwards but nor will Beck this time around.

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