Monday, 26 March 2012

Hackathon London: The Aftermath

Looking back over the last couple of days, I cannot believe how much was achieved in such a small amount of time. It was my first Hackathon, I wasn't quite sure of how these events go... but after the this weekend, I'm certain that it will be the first of many!

Firstly, I would like to send out a huge big thank you to everyone involved with the weekend, especially the people organising it! Even though it was the first event from Markco Media (, it was run impeccably. The generosity (so much free food and drink, let alone the chance to treat an amazingly cool office that is just a minute's walk away from Tower Bridge as my own for the weekend), the enthusiasm and the general fun-loving spirit of the people at the event was truly awesome. Nothing was too much trouble, and nothing was asked for in return.

There was also the chance to be utterly inspired and work with some of the great successes within the industry. Having those people on tap to give you advice and direction while you are creating is just something you could not get anywhere else, and it left me just itching to get out there and achieve!

The hacking itself was just so much fun. We created a tool which I genuinely think could grow into something useful that people would like to use - all based on the ideas of two entrepreneurs I was lucky enough to chat with. With out team of 3 developers and 3 multi-talented individuals in the areas of business, marketing and design, I was really pleased with just how far we got and what we achieved. OUr software also utilises the Pusher API to interact with their awesome service of pushing data, in real time, to clients concurrently - the chance to work with the direct support of one of their guys was great and helped us no end in incorporating their technology effectively into what we were building.

It wasn't only our hack which I got to get a good look at, either. There were a lot of other people developing other software which I found just as cool. Ranging from money management systems to music discovery systems based on colour, to a service ensuring 100% safe QR-codes - there was loads to look at and loads of great people behind the ideas! I'm really hoping to see some of these ideas develop into something great and being able to say - "I was there at the start!"

So after 3 days with 4 hours sleep, an unlimited supply of a hacker's favourite kinds of food, brilliant ideas, equally brilliant chances to meet new people with the industry and, probably most importantly, caffeine on tap, I really feel that this experience has been one of the greatest I've had in some time.

I really hope that Mark and the other guys at Markco Media decide to put on another event - I would be first in line to sign up!

(Also, I should be posting some photos of the weekend at some point when I'm not on a train!)

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Hackathon London

This weekend I am off to my very first Hackathon. Along with 4 of my fellow computer scientists from here at Aberystwyth University, I am travelling down south to the Markco Media ( offices in Butlers Wharf, London.

I have wanted to go to one of these events for many years, with lots of like minded people to talk to, eat and drink with and most importantly - hack alongside! There will also be some really cool and interesting people to gain advice and insights from, from a range of fantastic UK tech companies. I am especially exited to get to meet them and listen to what they have to say!

The basic principle of the hackathon is that there are many groups all working on different projects over the course of 48 hours. Sleep is scarce, coffee is plentiful and hopefully there will be some awesome projects emerging from it.

Leaving tomorrow morning at 9.30, I will try (as long as there is time in the busy hacking schedule!) to blog on the progress of my group and about the project we are undertaking. Oh, and I'll be tweeting all weekend long as well, no doubt.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

I love my new toy.

So, yesterday my new toy came through the post. It's not one of those "useless toys", or one of those toys that I will "use once and never use again". This toy was something that has real uses. Not only real uses, but useful uses too!

You've obviously guessed it by now; I got myself an Arduino.

Ok, so the stuff I have done with it so far hasn't exactly been ground breaking. Well, unless you call making a Red LED blink "Hello World" in morse code, with a nice Yellow LED blinking to inform you the end of each letter... but it had to be done, right?

Above: My new toy blinking "Hello World"

To be honest, I have always wanted to do some programming of actual hardware. Ok, so in a sense you are always telling certain pieces of hardware to do things, but there is just something really cool about actually seeing which circuits you are switching on and off and being able to see, physically, the result of your programatic statements.

So, so far I have managed to make a few simple sketches, just learning the very basics (I need to crawl before I walk, don'tcha know). I am however, really exciting about the things you can use this awesome little piece of kit for, though. I would really like to get it to do something useful in my car. Gather and display some technical data maybe? Or interact with the "entertainment system" in some way?

The thing I really love about this piece of hardware is the software that comes with it, and just how easy it is to setup and then proceed to get it working. There is nothing hard to understand (maybe a fairly basic knowledge of programming, but nothing harder than that), pretty much anyone could have a go at doing something cool with one of these - something which I think is awesome.

Fancy getting your plant to call out when it needs watering? Want to create that security system for when someone ventures into your cupboards? Maybe you just want to make something pretty with lots of little flashing LEDs - the Arduino is perfect for all of these (and obviously much, much more!)

I will keep you updated with all my latest and greatest creations, you can be sure of that!