Archive for November 2012

My Hack'N Jill Hacksgiving Experience

Hacker Props

I'm very big on participating in hackathons when I can spare the time. I really enjoy hackathons because it's avenue for me to interact with some extremely talented individuals who for the most part have the same passion for technology as I. These hackers attend hackathons to ultimately built things. Whether it be software or a hybrid software/hardware automation project these individuals pour their passion of technology into their project which by the way must be completed under extreme time constraints. Hackathons usually run 24-36 hours but I've actually participated in competitions that lasted 8 hours & I am still in awe of the creative and well designed solutions that are produced at these events.

Ok so now that I've given my props to all my hackers the true purpose of this blog is to share my Hack'nJill Hacksgiving experience.

The Venue

Hacksgiving was hosted at the gracious Etsy offices in DUMBO district of Brooklyn, NY. The venue definitely handled the capacity very well. During the opening and judging events I counted over 200 people in the space. An excellent space for the event.

Opening Ceremonies

The Hack'N Jill event organizers did great job introducing themselves, the sponsors and basically giving the crowd the required event intell. The sponsors all gave their super quick pitches on their APIs and OpenShift pitched the free Platform as a Service (PaaS) offering that the hackers could use to host their projects.

After all the sponsor pitches the hackers were given 60 seconds to pitch some project ideas. They all pitched great ideas that mainly addressed communication deficiencies during emergency/disaster scenarios such as the recent comm short comings exposed by Sandy. It was great to see the community pitch in and address some of these issues but then again hackers are always civically minded and ready to help when & where needed.

I have to say that the organizers were very prepared to satisfy the hackers' appetite with great selections of food, beer & wine. I mean stock piles of the stuff and I got to even try a beer I've never had before.

Cervesa!!!

Let the Hacks Begin

The opening ceremonies concluded and the hackers swiftly grabbed as much pizza & beer as they could carry and we were off to the overnight venue to start on hacking projects. Since I was there to support the hackers in using OpenShift we joined the crew at the overnight. Right off the bat three teams had decided to use OpenShift so we quickly got them up and running on the PaaS. After 2 hours I was beat and hobbled off to the hotel for a few hours of sleep.

At 8:00 am we returned to the Etsy office and we were greeted at the front door by a group of hackers and crates of bagels & cream cheese. The room quickly filled surprisingly with the lady hackers first which left me curious as to where all male hackers were. One minute later the overnight crew showed up and it was on. Hacking was in full effect. The collaboration was thick, teammates conversing and coding with such passion & competitiveness all the while having a visibly great time and enjoying every minute of it.

A great lunch was served and we quickly devoured these delicious gourmet sandwiches that you could only really get in NYC. I had a chicken salad sandwich that had halved grapes and other spices I couldn't identify but it was fantastic even though I was initially dubious of the grape bits. After lunch some teams were ready to start testing and deploying their apps to OpenShift and that's when we got busy.

Three quarters of the way through the event an announcement was made that fresh gourmet ice cream was being served. I was busy assisting some teams but I did look up and see a woman actually serving hackers ice cream from a proper ice cream cart that even had an umbrella. I will admit this was a hackathon first for me and it was an awesome idea that I hope to see in future hackathons.

About four hours out from the hacking deadline I was sitting next to a designer named Alexandra and I asked her if she wanted to work on a hack with me. She was already working with another team but she had some downtime and gladly accepted my offer. I quickly explained my idea and she began designing the front-end to our app. I was coding the backend and cleaning up some OSHA data that we were going to use. I had been sitting on this public OSHA dataset that contains all of the reported workplace fatalities since 2001. It seemed a bit morbid but the intention was primarily to bring awareness to the existence of this publicly available data produced by the federal government.

During the last hour of the competition teams were hopped up and buzzing. Everyone was in a mad rush to put the finishing touched on their projects. We even felt the pressure of finishing but we recovered from a few stumbles and produced a very simple but functioning app.

The PIT  -  Last minute scrambling
The competition deadline arrived and all the hackers were told to cease development and ushered into another room for the wonderful Mexicue that was being served. Again another great meal devised by the Hack'N Jill team.

Judging the Hacks

Dinner passed and it was time for the judging. The room was filled with more folks than were present for the actual hacking. The teams did a great job presenting their projects and answering the judges' questions. In between team presentation setups one of the HnJ hosts would tell the worst jokes. She was cute on delivery but I have to admit that these joke were horrible. She knew they were bad but she still tortured us with them.

Alexandra gave our pitch for our app Fatal Query & I have to say that though our app very basic it showed something quite unique & very different from all of the other projects being pitched that night. I quickly noticed the room's curiosity for the app. Alexandra was querying the app and showing the number of deaths that occurred in 2012. It definitely got people's attention.

The pitches concluded and the prizes were awarded. The judges definitely had to make some tough calls. There were many projects deserving of 1st place but in the end they chose and in my opinion it was an appropriate selection. The winning app was Disaster Remote Response by @harisamin & @maggit. Congratulations to you both!!!!

You can take a look at event details on the Hacksgiving Hacker League page.

Conclusion

I first want to say that I was impressed with the amount of volunteers that were working the event and I'm definitely giving them BIG props for their role. You hackers all know how filthy we can get and these folks were cleaning up after us like nobody's business. They really expended a ton of effort in making us comfortable and I for one really appreciated that so thank you to all of the volunteers.

In my humble opinion the Hack'N Jill Hacksgiving event was to date the best hackathon I've ever attended. There were plenty of talented hackers, great food, drink, interesting people but most of all really really really bad jokes. The ladies of HnJ put on an excellent event and I will attribute most of their success to their creative approach and attention to details. The HnJ model should be the standard template for all future hackathons everywhere with the exception that they invest in a dirty joke book and tell some of those jokes at the next event. Looking forward to the next one!

Thx for reading

-A

Prezpoll App Results

Well the U.S. Presidential Elections are now over and we have a clear winner. Congratulations President Barack Obama!

I must admit I am a little disappointed in the very low participation & results of the Prezpoll App but I also attribute this to some more critical factors.  First I did write & publish this app during a devastating storm that clobbered the North Eastern states which explains some of the low participation.  I also attribute low participation to ineffective promotion.  I hit up facebook a few times and tweeted multiple times but that didn't help.  I will definitely be more focused on promotional strategies in future applications.

As far as the results are concerned I was shocked at the huge margin Obama had over Romney.  I thought it would have been a bit closer than what the results show.  It was a fun experiment and the poll did predict the winner so I guess it somewhat reflects what the public was feeling.

Thanks to those who participated and if you want to see the results take a look here:  http://prezpoll.angelrivera.com/results

I also want to give big props to Python, 10Gen & Red Hat for providing all of the free & open source technologies used in this app.

thx for reading

New app: PrezPoll - Who would you like to see in the White House?

Like so many north eastern citizens my employer was closed for business in prep for and during the devastating storm Sandy. I was lounging around the house enjoying the family with the storm coverage on in the back ground. After sometime I noticed that all of the Presidential Election coverage was rightfully non-existent and for some reason that triggered a thought. I wanted to create an unbiased grass roots poll that would capture individuals picks for the 2012 U.S. Presidential Election. I wanted to gauge which candidate the public wants to see in the White House this term.

I've been learning Python for a few months now and I decided to build an application that could capture these presidential picks and publicly show the poll results. The end result of this application would be to tally the votes for each candidate and display those results to the public online. As I was designing the app and modeling the data I came to the conclusion that I only needed to capture the user's picks. I wasn't interested in identifying who and how these individuals voted. I was only interested in anonymously capturing their pick in the interest of protecting privacy.

Upon finalizing the requirements I started selecting the technologies to use for this project. As I previously mentioned, I've been working Python for months now so that was my clear choice and then I chose to the flask framework to enable the web functionality. I then decided to use MongoDB for the data repository layer. I had the web and database technologies picked for the project and the missing piece was how and where was this app going to be hosted.

I've been researching and using Red Hat's Platform as a Service (PaaS) OpenShift for almost a year now and it was a natural fit for this project. Firstly OpenShift has a free offering for customers which enables users to easily deploy host and maintain their apps online.  Secondly it supports the technologies that I intended to use for this project as well as most open source languages, database and frameworks available. OpenShift is a one stop shop so again my choice was clear here.

MongoDB is a great data repository. I really enjoy using it's document based schema but most of all its amazing speed in both reading and writing data.  The non-relational principals it's based on bring a huge smile to my face because it allows data to be stored, maintained and accessed dynamically and not bogged down with the many constraints of relational data models.  Now you can truly model your data as objects without having to go through what I like to call "relational hell".  You veteran engineers know what I'm talking about.  MongoDB is stable, fast and best of all open and free so use it!

Now that I settled on the project's tech I rolled up my sleeves and began coding. Python truly is a great language an I recommend that everyone learn it. The syntax is kool and easy to read. I decided the app would consist of 2 resources a voting page and a results page where the current poll results are displayed.  I coded the presentation and controller layers using flask and the Jinja2 template system. I also had to import the Flask-PyMongo packages in order for flask to speak with the MongoDB data layer. After approximately 4 hours of coding and tweaking the presentation details/functionality of the the prezpoll app I felt it was ready for the wild so did a quick git commit -mgit push and prezpoll was hot on the web.

Overall I'm satisfied with the app. It could def be prettified but I haven't played the web designer role in years. That aspect of web development is like fashion and changes so often that I truly have no interest in having to change styles and techniques as required when you're in the design game.

In any case it was fun developing this app and I hope that it gets lots of participation. I think it's a kool experiment and can reflect the general public's opinion. So be sure you pick your guy and encourage everyone you know to use the app too.

You can make your pick here and the poll results will be shown after your selection:

http://prezpoll.angelrivera.com

Enjoy - thx for reading

-A

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