Real Artists Ship
A WhatsApp message from my dear friend Omair started a mini-adventure for me this last weekend. Arianna and the team were once again running the Hack@Brookes event, and graciously offered me a seat on the judging panel. I like Brookes people, and the new Brookes building. And hackathons are usually a great way to get to know people and what they can do in a short period of time. And the logo looked promising. Kal also gave the 2016 event the thumbs up, and he was also up for doing a talk at this one. Enough already. Let’s do this.
Saturday kicked off on schedule with lots of fun, and energy. Arianna, and co-organisers Suyash Srijan and Gregor Strähle kept things moving along nicely. Security expert Steve Wilson ran a lock picking workshop, and Josh Simpson and Alicia Beylan from Major League Hacking doled out hackable hardware from their tools library. Teams started to get together, and stacks of food and drink arrived. Some of the Brookes faculty did engaging 101 talks, and everyone had a chance to practice pitching in front of the audience in three minute lightning talks. These talks showed the first signs of artistry and shipping of the weekend. Arianna cajoled lots of us in the audience to stand up and do our thang. Particulary impressive was Amira, a Brookes student originally from Algeria. Amira spoke eloquently on her journey from Algeria to the UK, about overcoming a deep fear of exams, to finishing top of her class, about arriving here a couple of years ago with very little spoken English, and about talking her way onto a degree foundation course, and then onto a full degree at Brookes. Powerful stuff.
Sunday morning saw the hack teams in full flow. In spite of the lack of sleep, the now empty Red Bull fridge was a small testament to the teams’ determination to finish this. More expert talks and hacking brought us around to the Demo Fair. The judges wandered around the teams finding out more about who’s who, why they were here, and what they had achieved over the last twenty hours or so. A Judge huddle later, and the pretty unanimous short-list was announced: an air piano, an Alexa-powered student calendar app, and a nicer way to provide a password. The shortlisted teams then had a few minutes to present their products, and after careful consideration the organisers called out the prize winners.
Though I think they sneaked in a name change after the event, worthy winners were Portaudio Expert (the piano — redesigned for your hands!) by Aiken Cairncross and Matt Boughen. I had the impression that last year, a couple of students from the OU Computer Science department had turned up, done some homework, eaten pizza and then gone home. When I met Aiken and Matt on Saturday, I wondered if we were in for more of the same . So it was good to see they’d done something, and done it so well. Their project page is here, and you can check out their inaugural performance below. Matt already has something lined up after he graduates. All the same, I recommended that they get in touch with Moran at Chirp.
In second place was a very nicely executed calendar app from team Winning Student (we make tracking lecture times easier!). Alice Ly, Andy Jiang, Damian Czarnecki and Omar Diab scraped their lecture schedule from the university website, and had Alexa read it out from their personal Google calendar. Their project page is here. I suggested that if they wanted to take it forward, that they look to take on CalReply.
Third place went to Project 84, an authentication system using pictures to put an end to passwords like ‘123456’ by Vinmar Tipay, Paloma Nisola and Brynley Langman. Like the other shortlisted teams, Project 84 had put together a demo, and a nice one at that. Kal and I were enthusiastic about the potential for this team, provided they could get it protected.
Deserved winners of the Best Newbie team were the affable Danny Hignell and Aisha Anwar, and their Mooder app. Best use of Technology to Survive! A zombie survival game by Mickael Hawat. Mickael is one to watch.
All in all, a thoroughly entertaining, and thought provoking weekend. Highly recommended if you are in the vicinity for the next one. My thanks to Arianna, Suyash, and Gregor for organising it, ably supported by Olivia Sturrock, Fayosi Olukoya, Ben Clarke, Joshua Heine and Ezexiel Valdez. And to fellow judges Kal, Steve, Alicia, and Joshua. And above all, thanks to all the artist teams, who showed up, got stuck in, and shipped.