This is a story of how a simple hardware hack got surprisingly out of hand.
Summer of Hacks 2019
It all started in the summer of 2019 during the Oxford Summer of Hacks. One of the events put on was a hardware hack day, where beginner tinkerers could learn about programming real things with the help of more knowledgeable people in the room. I was somewhere in the middle of the scale: I know how to program so I managed to teach a kid and his dad to write some code for a robot powered by a BBC micro:bit, but I needed help when it came to the most basic of hardware tasks.
I had a vague idea of what I wanted to work on during this hack day: after reading a blog post from the Raspberry Pi Foundation I ordered a small screen thinking I could get it to display the Tube status. However, that didn’t arrive in time, so I had to improvise with some LEDs instead.
Continue reading “Getting Festive with some Addressable LEDs: TfL Tree”
Another year, my third Hackference. And what a fun weekend that was!
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:
Continue reading “#Hackference 2018”
If you’re looking to save money on your AWS bill, consider switching to a Spot instance.
I’ve been running most of my websites on a single Amazon EC2 instance for about 2 years now. It’s been fine: there’s a bit of setup involved but I’ve become more familiar with Linux servers as a result; and if ever I encounter a problem the solution is never more than a single Google away.
The first year on AWS was great: by creating a new account you get some things in your first year for free. A t2.micro instance (1 CPU, 1GB RAM) was part of this free tier, and it comfortably ran 5 of my little Node.js hacks so long as they don’t get too much traffic.
The following year meant that that same server was no longer free. An ‘on-demand’ instance (where pay per hour that it’s in use) costs just over $9 per month, but if you know you’re going to keep it running for a year, you can pay some of the money up front and bring the effective cost down to $6.50 per month. I thought that was a reasonable price, so I paid that for the second year. Continue reading “Spot me an EC2 instance”
Well, it has been almost a year since my previous post here, very much living up to the “occasional blogger” title on my Twitter profile.
I didn’t think there was going to be a Hackference 2017, what with it being ‘the last Hackference’ last year, but here we are.
Annoyingly, I made it to Euston station at 6:44am on the Friday. The train I booked was scheduled for 6:43, and annoyingly left on time, so I had to buy another ticket. £58 poorer than I was hoping to be that day, I got on the next train and still made it to The Studio (the venue for the day) on time.
I’m not going to say much about the talks: they were all really good, inspiring everyone to think differently about programming, design, and to try out some of the new Web technologies.
Here’s Oxford’s very own Ben Foxall demoing a combination of the Web Audio API, WebGL and Nexmo’s voice API. In short, a visualisation of a phone call between Ben and his mum, happening in real time!
The next day was the hackathon. 24 hours of working on whatever you want, with whomever you want, from midday on Saturday to midday on Sunday. There were a few sponsors who ran challenges to help focus the direction of the hacks, including Microsoft. Microsoft were encouraging the use of their Cognitive Services APIs – a collection of machine learning features making it easy for developers to add image recognition, OCR, speech-to-text etc. to their own applications; and they would award a prize to the team with the best use of their APIs.
What follow are the slides from my presentation at the end. Continue reading “Hackference 2017”
<- 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.
Continue reading “Hackference 2016, Part 2 – The Hackathon”
Last weekend saw me heading to Birmingham to attend Hackference, a 3-day event for all sorts of programmers. There was a conference on Friday at the Electric Cinema, followed by a 24-hour hackathon at the weekend.
I’d never been to Hackference before, so I didn’t know what to expect. It’s a shame it’s probably going to be the last one though.
What follows is my account of the weekend, aided by plenty of tweets. The weekend was so jam-packed with stuff to blog about, so I’m going to split it up in two.
Part 1 – the conference
The Electric Cinema was a really cool venue. There were two screens, so two talks could happen at the same time. This was good because we could choose the talks that interested us most, but bad because most of the time I wanted to see both! Continue reading “Hackference 2016, Episode IV: A New Hackference”
Yesterday I went outside. I found the Two Tunnels path. It was a rather nice day.
But enough of that. Today I solved Countdown using Node.
Continue reading “Let’s Solve Countdown!”
Yesterday I went to a hack day run by JSOxford. The theme was ‘realtime’, i.e. using Web technologies to update a site automatically from a data source.
Since I had no experience with realtime technologies before I came, I didn’t want to make anything too ambitious! I just wanted to learn the basics so that I could make something useful in the future.
Continue reading “Realtime hacking with JSOxford”
Golf: normally, unless it’s of the ‘Crazy’ or ‘Adventure’ variety (is there a difference?), I will stay well away from it. That’s mainly because my arms don’t swing and it involves quite a lot of standing and waiting around outside. However, yesterday evening I played a game of Code Golf.
The game goes like this – there are 9 problems (or ‘holes’ if you will), and you need to write a method to solve each one. The problems are fairly simple (I was reminded of first year programming), but the aim was to solve the problems in the fewest number of characters possible. This meant if you stood any chance of winning, you would have to squash your code into something compact and unreadable.
Continue reading “Code Golf at Bath Ruby User Group”
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.