The main event space, complete with virtual reality (VR) track hackers and a massive fucking laser.

My Weekend At Junction 2016

A story of sleep deprivation, cold places, and box building

After spending the past weekend at Junction, held in Helsinki, Finland, I have to say that it has been one of the craziest hackathons I have ever taken part in.

The first thing that hits you is the scale. I estimated that there were roughly 1200 hackers who converged on the venue, considering that there were more than 1500 users on the Slack team. You can literally walk for five minutes through all of the event rooms and see rows upon rows of laptop screens, energy drinks and random mockups and designs.

Although I’m constantly telling people to sleep more at hackathons, it seems that I’m not good at practising what I preach — I barely got five hours of sleep during the weekend, and they were all spent on the floor next to our desks. The organisers had kindly offered free sleeping areas for the weekend, however they were too far for me to travel without a travel pass, and although the nearby hostel had discounts for the weekend, I was late as always getting in on those deals. But that’s okay — while the venue was nice and warm, Helsinki was seemingly going through some peak weather. Temperatures hit a high of -1°C and a low of -8°C, paired with blustery winds and sleet. No wonder that the entrepreneurial event held on the following week is called Slush.

A live video from the hacking space.

What I Worked On

Signed, Sealed, Delivered.

My team — Walter, Jean-Paul, Emil, Milda and myself — worked on MailSnail, an Internet-connected mailbox which is able to detect when mail arrives, takes a picture of the mail, and sends a notification to that person, either on Twitter, as an email, or even sent to an Internet-connected coffee mug. The build was tough and full of challenges; for instance, since we had no camera modules available for us to use on our IoT board we had to compromise by creating a prototype using an Android phone as a stand-in for our IoT board. Also, I ran into a lot of problems when writing a backend in Node.JS, such as interfacing problems, so ultimately we switched to using a Flask app as our backend. We also had issues setting up our OCR library, so those features ended up somewhat limited.

But wait, did you say Internet-connected coffee mug? Yes, yes I did.

© Paulig Muki. Source

Some Finnish coffee company called Paulig Muki decided that they wanted to make a coffee mug that contains a Bluetooth-connected e-paper screen. So they did. They brought some along to Junction and welcomed teams to make some hacks with them, so indeed we did! And in fact, for making something that used their mug, each of the people on our team have won a mug, so I look forwards on making some interesting hacks with them… I’d definitely like to get tube status updates on my mug, as an example.

So, to conclude, Junction was definitely one of the craziest hackathons I think I’ve been to. Everything from seeing adverts for the event scattered around the capital’s tram stops when travelling to the venue, to the amazing decorations put up around the place (apparently all made by the volunteers), the warm Finnish welcome of the organisers, the sheer scale of the event, plus of course the freaking massive laser. It all added up to an unforgettable experience and I’m definitely going to be back next year. With an extra 5 layers of clothing or so.