#Hackference 2018

Another year, my third Hackference. And what a fun weekend that was!

The Conference

Like last year, the conference was based in thestudio in Birmingham, right next to New Street station so it was really convenient to get there from London in the morning. It was an early start and I didn’t exactly have the earliest of nights either.

Unlike last year, I managed to get to Euston station on time for my 6:43 train 🙌

There were plenty of great talks. Hackference is a 2-track conference, meaning there are usually 2 talks happening at the same time. It was a shame that the talks weren’t recorded this year, because there were a couple of occasions where I would have wanted to be in both talks at the same time. If only I had a time-turner…

Speaking of Harry Potter references, in Marta Bondyra’s talk I got to live the dream of being a real wizard in an awesome WebVR + Speech API demo:

A highlight of the conference was Terence Eden’s talk about contributing to the HTML5 specification. Not necessarily the most entertaining of subject matters but it was fantastically delivered with humour and energy.

He also started off his talk encouraging people to ask questions if at any point they don’t understand something. It made sure the entire talk was accessible to everybody. Terence is really accessibility-aware: something that the rest of us need to take inspiration from.

Jo Franchetti introduced Web Bluetooth, going into details but using a drone as an example to make it easy to understand.

Alex Lakatos’ talk about chatbots gave me some ideas of stuff we could implement at work.

The final talk was by Jess Rose who talked to us about burnout, stress and mental health; and if you’re feeling burnt out, how you should take more breaks and try not to take on too much.

I stayed at the super-low-budget EasyHotel right next to the station. Being Friday night there was a club next door which was making lots of noise until 1am; and even after that I could hear every bit of noise coming from outside. I should have known it would be bad after the only free thing that came with the room was a pair of earplugs! I probably got 3 hours sleep that night – only just worth the £30 I paid for it…

The Hackathon

Funny how, soon after yesterday’s talk about burnout, we then had to do a 24-hour hackathon. Once again, it was held at the Impact Hub, a co-working space a short walk from the city centre. I arrived feeling pretty groggy and without any idea of what I wanted to make. The welcome talk started at 11am where the sponsors were given the chance to plug their services and announce the prize categories.

The prize categories were intentionally varied in their complexity to suit novices and experts alike, and to not tie you down to solving any specific problem. Cloudinary, for example, were awarding two prizes: one for best use of their service and another for the most creative use. Majestic were another sponsor, so simply said “build something lovely” to win their hamper of prizes. Proactive Paul was once again sponsoring with the best prize category – the “Spirit of the Hack” – he had sets of LEGO to give to people that had the right mentality, but might not have got anything working by the end. By having Paul sponsoring the event, it meant that anyone could win a prize, even if they had never programmed before!

https://twitter.com/proactivepaul/status/1051096570131881986

Hacking started at midday. Having seen Cloudinary’s demo I came up with an idea and got on with learning how the service worked. My idea was a solo project (again), but I often got up, wandered around and tried helping the other attendees.

Throughout the day, we had a couple of surprises:

My idea was to take a photo of someone in front of a projector screen, and then stick another image on top so it looked as if they were presenting it. I used Cloudinary for the image processing and Typeform for user input. I’ll go into the details of my project in another post. Update: I didn’t write another post.

Come night-time, most of the attendees went home or to their hotels for a good night’s sleep. Being on a tight budget I opted to stay at the venue to try and get some sleep in a corner.

I couldn’t.

Those who were asleep were some of the loudest snorers I’ve ever heard! I might have drifted off for some time between 6 and 7am, but by the morning I was quite grumpy. I would have preferred another night at the EasyHotel, and that’s saying something.

I’d pretty much finished my hack on Saturday, but I made a couple of finishing touches on Sunday morning and put some slides together for my demo. I always do slides for the introduction followed by a live demo, even though I only have 2 minutes to fit it all in!

Hacking stopped at 12(ish), we had lunch then it was time for the presentations. It was clear that people let their creativity run wild!

Remember Twitch Plays Pokémon? Well, Marcus made “Nexmo Plays Pokémon”. People could dial in and press numbers on their phone’s keypad to play through Pokémon Yellow – only everyone was sending their button presses to the same game!

A little bit of hardware hacking too:

Oh look, here’s my hack!

Shout out to Callum who introduced me to the Bongo Cat meme. One of his 3 hacks was a chatbot that gave you a random Bongo Cat video on demand:

There were about 20 projects being presented, and it took about 2 hours to get through all of them! Most of that time was spent fiddling with settings to make the projector work in between each presentation.

There was a quick break while the sponsors decided who would win the prizes, then at around half 3 they were announced.

…and I won 2 of them! 😲

I got a Nintendo SNES from Typeform and a subscription to Packt for trolling Mike (the organiser): both of which I wasn’t expecting! Now I’ll be able to balance playing games from the early 90s with learning new skills with unlimited technology books.

Ella also won the Packt subscription. Her hack was simple but effective, and her presentation had the whole room in hysterics! You really had to be there.

We were out by 4:15 which gave me plenty of time to get my 5:30 train back to London and my comfy bed.

I’m publishing this post 3 days after the hackathon. I’ve nearly caught up on sleep.

Here’s to the most fun and inclusive tech event of the year: long may it continue!

 

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