The stage is set. The tensions are mounting. We arrived at Hopkins at 6:30 in the evening. Having frozen several body parts off, we entered the Hodson building, signed in, received free goodies, and feasted on some sandwiches. After taking a tour of the place and scouting potential boot camps, we finally found a room and settled. 8 PM struck. The HopHacks opening ceremony began. First, they ran through sponsors. Then they ran through the schedule. Then, in a sly play that none could have foreseen, they ran us through an exhaustive list of partners (In case you ever need to distinguish between the two, partners talk a lot more). Some speakers were concise and retained the viewers’ attention. Others were not so concise, made the viewer stand up and partake in forms of physical exertion. Some, ahem ahem AOL ahem ahem, were perfectly self aware and managed to impress us with their surprisingly profound contemporary relevance to technology.
And then at 9, it began. Chaos was abundant. Some were smart and found the shortest path to their destination. Others criticized the some for not knowing what they were doing, and forced me to take a longer path and lose a limb to frostbite. Ultimately the groups were assembled, and the hacking began. An ISIS API session at 9:45 PM would commence shortly after, attracting all the folks who wished to take advantage of the JHU centralized network.
I walked around the entire venue, attempting to get a feel for things soon after. As I scoured the place in search of interesting projects and ideas, I came across a few of the organizers of the event. A representative from Major League Hacking and the host of the introductory program. I would then talk to several people about their projects. I discovered everything from a security app designed to track people so that campus security could position themselves accordingly, to a service that could help you graphically visualize your academic direction. I was especially interested in teams that were taking advantage of the hardware provided by HopHacks.
I went all around the place scouting people and interesting projects. I was, in particular, keen on discovering interesting uses of the hardware provided. I discovered many a project, a software that measured your heart rate and played songs according to how fast it was. A security app that forced campus security to allocate its resources to wherever people were the most abundant, a freshman navigational tool that looked at a person’s schedule of classes and found the optimal route for them that day. There was no shortage of fresh ideas, and it was interspersed with high functioning gamers and the like.
At one point, I talked to the bloke who helped organize the event and was handling PR – Dan Swann. I discovered soon enough, that the entire thing was being managed by 15 people and 30 volunteers. An event that was hosting about 300 people, mind you. An impressive feat, and a tight display of organizational prowess. I talked to Dan about MLH and its involvement in the whole event – how it was providing hardware and how the setup was pretty routine, given that they’d worked together before. He mentioned that he was pretty excited about a hack he’d seen that involved cleverly combining Microsoft Connect and a Myo and one that created a VPN out of a Raspberry Pi for portable security.
An interesting point of discussion was angel investors. Groups of people with capital who’d hang around the right corners, talk to the right people, and take the successful hacks and make ‘em bigger. And these, along with the large companies sponsoring the event were incredible incentive to give it one’s all, since the potential for jobs and internships at an event like this was colossal.
Eventually, I stopped pestering Dan and went back to the lounge. I’d like you all to picture this – 3 in the morning. Swarms of people everywhere. The energy levels are still pretty high, thanks to a constant flow of energy drinks, soda, pizza and miscellaneous snackables. People are ripping their hair out when their programs aren’t working, and pummeling their friends in the backs when they are. Others are sprawled out in strange locations, escaping their teams for a cat nap. Some have given up altogether and are utilizing the high bandwidth internet to its best potential – video games. The lounge was the conglomeration of all those activities into one small room. Gigantic television. Video Game Console. Food. People spread across the floor, table and chairs alike. It encompassed the coding and competitive environments beautifully. Quite a sight to see.
I’m going to skip ahead, because while group tensions, debugging and general chaos affect groups differently, you don’t see their effects over the grand scheme of things. And so to the final day and the winners. Soteria, the group that designed the campus security app, took home the top prize. Tip of the Tongue – a clever app that merged dictionaries, thesauruses and some more dubious online sources was also successful. Touch, a more socially aware app was directed more toward helping blind people. Course visualizers, Yelp for Water (essentially), and a clinical trial software. These were all the victors in the caffeine fueled race we were all a part of.
People stayed up till the wee hours of the morning. It paid off for some of them. For others, the weekend itself was the fun part. See you folks again at BitCamp!