Hacked and slain

I’m back in Brighton after a truly unforgettable weekend at Hackday. Most people wouldn’t think that being cooped up in Alexandra Palace for two days with hundreds of geeks with laptops without access to beds or showers would be much fun. Most people would be wrong.

On the afternoon of the second day, the hacking stopped and the demos began. Over 70 hacks were presented. That’s quite an astounding figure. What’s even more astounding is the level of work that went into these hacks. Each presenter had just 90 seconds with an intimidating spotlight shining on them in an otherwise darkened cavernous hall.

Some of my personal favourites…

  • Ann created a knitting hack called Buzz Knit. Based on the data coming from Yahoo sources like sport or music, a small knitting pattern is generated: here’s the pattern from TV listings. Then Ann knitted one of the patterns which she presented on stage. The real pièce de résistance was the way she closed her presentation by speculating that “maybe in the future, instead of writing my blog, I’ll knit it instead.”

  • The gang from Moo created a location-service called NetTwitchr. Enter a post code and retrieve information about your location as well as the current mood of its occupants. This was probably the prettiest of all the hacks presented, thanks to Denise’s leet design skillz.

  • A duo from the New York Times created a Mobile/RFID/Web integration package called Shifd to seamlessly sync RSS feeds between mobile phones and desktop computers when the two come into contact.

  • Richard and Andy created a truly social application called Get Us Organised. It’s for those situations when you’re trying to cat-herd a group of people into deciding on a time and place for an event in such a way that it inconveniences the least amount of people—perfect for Pub Standards booze-ups and Britpack geekends. It even creates an Upcoming event automatically. Richard gave a really convincing demo and the immediate chatter on the backchannel included phrases like “Upcoming should totally buy this” and “genuinely useful”. The boys quite rightly won the Most Useful Hack award and received an iPod nano for their trouble.

Watching all of the hacks come together in the space of 24 hours was really a sight to behold. Tom has been getting his thoughts down and he describes his favourite part:

It was the period between nine and two am where everyone was doing precisely what they wanted to do. Where the lighting was atmospheric, where the coding was focused and everyone seemed to flow, where the room was gently buzzing with key-strokes.

I know exactly what he means. The atmosphere was indescribable. It sounds like it should be the most anti-social thing ever: a bunch of nerds with their laptops open engrossed in their own projects. But it was incredibly social! There was a real connection—the kind of connection that’s usually really hard to maintain in a crowd. The level of collaboration on display can only be described as life-affirming.

At the end of the long journey back to Brighton, I was chatting with an equally impressed Aral. We both loved BarCamp. We both loved Hackday. We both love living in Brighton. I mentioned San Francisco’s SuperHappyDevHouse. Maybe we can organise something like that to keep the spirit of Hackday alive.

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