Yahoo Hackday is over

What a fun weekend. I had a thoroughly enjoyable time at the Yahoo/BBC hack day this past weekend. Dave Neary says “lightning struck twice”, referring to how he was left out of the programme for the conference he was at. Pah. Lightning did actually strike twice; the building I was in was struck. By lightning. Twice. Excuse me while I say that again. The building I was in was struck by lightning. Now there’s a pretty unique experience. Although it’s hardly surprising since Alexandra Palace has a 40 metre metal mast on the roof which looks like the Eiffel Tower and probably weighs about ninety tons. Rumours abound that Google’s new weather API is actually a writeable API. If it were, it’d probably look something like Simon’s Google Smite. To be honest, the bolt hit the building just as I and a couple of others were slagging off Microsoft Silverlight. Draw what conclusions you will.

The roof panels open after the lightning strike, allowing cool refreshing rain to land on everyone’s laptops

Aside from inadvertent electrical events, a lot, lot, lot else happened. There were many cool hacks done with the BBC and Yahoo APIs, seventy in total; I think my favourite was Fruitr, which identified pictures of fruit that you emailed it and then suggested mad recipes in which to use it. Other highlights:

  • Jeremy Keith, Nat Downe, and others actually working really hard for the entire weekend and coming up with Hackfight, Top Trumps where your scores are based on how many twitters you’ve done, how high your Technorati rating is, that sort of thing. So it’s a game where you can find out who’s the biggest gimp. Cool hack, mind. :-)
  • Me trying to make sense of Simon Willison’s Oxford Geeks code and build a Birmingham Geeks site around it in one hour. And then discovering that the git depended on all of Django just so he could use its template engine for one 10-line template file. Good one.
  • I am going to set up Birmingham Geeks, though, so if you’re in this area leave a comment or something and when I do it you can see how to get on there. This will finally give me an excuse to go and have a beer with Bruce Lawson, which I’ve been meaning to do for about six months.
  • Travelling down on the train with Matthew Somerville and finding out about all the cool stuff that MySociety are doing, including a wicked cool hack with the BBC Parliament videos that I’m really hoping to see happen.
  • The wi-fi being constantly shit for all of the first day, even before the whole building was zapped. Pretty coloured circles on the Cisco wi-fi access points, though. Has anyone ever done a conference where the wi-fi worked properly? (Yes, I know about the Pycon writeup.)
  • Having two people come up and ask me if I was me based on recognising my voice from LugRadio. Cool. LugRadio Live is in three weeks, remember, people!
  • Meeting up with some people I hadn’t seen for a while and meeting some for the first time
  • Getting hassle from Christian Heilmann again about moving to London and working for Yahoo. I’m not moving to London, dude. Open a Birmingham office! Embrace telecommuting! It is the 21st century! :-)
  • I got pretty pissed off with my laptop, mind, which is fine when sitting on my desk but, what with it being stuffed full of proprietary hardware (listen to this week’s LugRadio for more on that) doesn’t work very well on the wireless (having to reboot to make it re-detect it five or six times a day, grr), hibernate properly, or work with a projector without rebooting. I need a conference laptop which doesn’t have a load of undocumented Broadcom and ATI hardware in it and doesn’t weigh very much. I must try and find a very cheap second-hand one somewhere.

People hide their laptops from the rain with umbrellas inside. An unusual sort of sight.

It was great. I did think about putting some hacks together but, to be honest, I was enjoying chatting away and meeting back up with people so much that I didn’t really get around to much actual coding. Simon was kind enough to credit the London Geeks stuff he did to “The Oxford-Birmingham-Kansas alliance”, with me being the Birmingham third of that, but that’s about all. I do have a plan for making Jackfield support Yahoo widgets, mind. Oh, and I helped out a very small amount with Gerv Markham and Ewan Spence’s rocket launcher, which was entertaining in itself and provided more than one laugh on the day. Good work, Yahoo and the BBC. I have no idea whether the weekend met any of the goals you had for it, but you’ve convinced five hundred people that (a) you’re good companies, (b) there are many APIs out there which need mashing up, (c) it is possible to live for two days on Twixes and nervous energy, and (d) the world needs more weekends like this. When’s the next one? Bring it on.

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