<- Part 1: the conference
On Saturday, once everyone had got a good night’s ‘sleep’ (our hotel was just next to a loud club which only got quiet after 3am), we walked over to the Impact Hub.
Before I get started, I’m using the word ‘hack’ in the non-malicious form. Tabloids use the word ‘hacker’ to describe someone with malicious intent who steals data or takes down websites (for example, this article in the Mirror). We use it to describe someone who thinks the best way of learning is by doing. A hackathon is just a group of sleep-deprived developers playing with something new.
The event itself was free – paid for completely by the wonderful sponsors.
Before the hackathon started, not many people knew what they wanted to make (including me). Luckily the sponsors got a chance to inspire us with their products and announce their prizes. There was a variety of companies attending, each with some cracking prizes for the teams making best use of their services.
I’ve made a couple of updates to trntxt since July.
One of the things I noticed during my user tests was that people typed ‘bristol’ when they wanted information about Bristol Temple Meads, Bristol’s main station. Unfortunately ‘bristol’ is a closer match to the smaller Bristol Parkway station because it comes above Temple Meads alphabetically. Before August, there wasn’t a way to get the user to correct their search, but trntxt now has search suggestions!
The feature was implemented while being moderately inebriated by a single bottle of Henry Weston’s at the Meanbee hack night in Bath.
The other new thing is journey times. Trntxt now shows you how long each journey takes, so you can identify the faster trains more easily. The number is calculated with preference to the estimated timings, so if a train is delayed, the time will adjust accordingly.
Next logical step – sort by arrival time instead 😉
I’m also looking to make trntxt’s suggestions cleverer. I’ve started collecting data about the devices that use the site and the inputs people give. I’m hoping to expand that to also collect and store data from the National Rail Enquiries API. Don’t worry, the information collected is not personally identifiable (unless your user agent string is “HI MY NAME IS DAN”).
Hopefully, after some more practice with MongoDB I’ll be able to draw conclusions predicting the stations people mean based on their input. For example if someone types /bristol/london, they probably mean London Paddington, whereas /southampton/london should take the user to London Waterloo instead.
“The problem with hardware is that there is no version control” – Marcus Noble
I wrote about my hackathon experience on the Bath Hacked website, but I thought I’d copy it over to this blog too.
What did you make?
We created a website that aims to help people decide who to vote for in the next general election. It visualises the results of past elections and gives unbiased information about the candidates standing for the next election.
Which data sources/tools did you use?
Our main data source was the BANES website, which contained all the data for the past election results. We also looked at the websites of the candidates for next year’s election.
What were the challenges?
One of the main challenges was collecting the data. Chris spent many hours trawling through the many pages of the council website to collect the data and put it into a spreadsheet, which was then uploaded to the data store.
What would you do to improve your project further?
Currently we only have past election data for 2011 in the Bath Constituency. We would like to add data for North East Somerset and for other years to help users discover trends.
We were also intrigued with the problem of tactical voting. We’d like to create an opinion poll to collect information on how people would like to vote if they didn’t feel the need to vote tactically. Perhaps this will be able to influence people’s decisions.
Where can we find it?
VoteTub isn’t online right now, but we plan on continuing development of the website. This blog post will be updated and we’ll tweet a lot when we bring it live.
This weekend I took part in my first ever weekend-long ‘hackathon‘, where a bunch of developers group together to create solutions to make Bath better. The event took place at the Bath Guild. We were encouraged to take publicy available data about the city and turn it into a resource that members of the public could actually make sense of.
I formed a team with two other hackathon newbies, Christopher and Cliff. Christopher wasn’t a coder but had an idea for a project, Cliff had experience as a front-end developer, and I was a recent graduate with almost no experience building a thing from scratch.
Christopher’s idea was to build a website that would help people decide who to vote for in future elections. It would list the candidates with links to various forms of social media, and give unbiased policy information. It would also look into the past, providing results of previous local elections, and also the future. An idea was to try to tackle tactical voting. The site would ask visitors who they were going to vote for, then who they would ideally like to see in power. It would then show them the summary of what other people replied. We thought it would be interesting to see if this data would affect people’s decisions.