Hackference 2013

First off, Hackference 2013 was a fantastic event with brilliant people. Made some great friends as well as played with some great code!

A little about the event: “A first-of-its-kind event in Birmingham, collecting 300 developers to look into different technologies, languages and best practices available in the development world. The team at Hackference will be bringing you internationally renowned developers to share their knowledge on a wide range of subjects covering different areas of coding and development.

Read more about it here: http://2013.hackference.co.uk

We started the weekend by horrendously navigating around Birmingham to try and find where we’re meant to be! It wasn’t easy as none of us had been here before. After a great deal of traffic avoidance, and patience, we found the place and parked. Inside we were greated by a gang of eager hackers having a chat before the ‘frence’ side of the weekend kicked off.

The conference had some interesting topics from Realtime web apps to Javascript chaos with some great speakers I was looking forward too. Unfortunately I made a rookie mistake and forgot my notepad, so I didn’t collect any notes as we were going, but come lunch time we did have a brainwave of what we were going to do for tomorrows hackathon. And the first part of that idea was to obtain a Microsoft Kinect.

Not really knowing where we were, we made our way into Birmingham city centre looking for any type of shop that may have a Kinect for sale, ideally second-hand to reduce costs. Luckily there was a Game in the Bullring selling one second-hand which we immediately snapped up. First part of the mission complete. So the next part was to get the Kinect working on an Apple Mac which by itself was an utter nightmare.

After hours spent in the hotel lobby using the slowest wifi known to man, and ‘hope-for-the-best’ type trial and error we eventually got some glimmer of hope when the Kinect began blinking. Not exactly what we had in mind considering the time we spend, and that the hackathon was starting the next morning, but progress is progress.

The next morning, the hackathon began. We had 36 hours to hack our idea with a half working Kinect and lack of sleep on our side. The idea was to create a Kinect based audio manipulator using the Soundcloud API to essentially produce a cool ‘composer’ like effect with the music to control pitch, tempo, and other various music type things. We coined the name Kinposer and kicked off!

Hackference 2013 - Hackathon set-up

We firstly assembled our team which comprised of myself (developer), Dennis (designer/front-end developer), Jonjoe (junior developer), and Hugh (super developer).

Hackference 2013 - Hackathon team

After 10 or so hours in, and a lot of help from Andrew (@teabass) we had a very basic prototype working in Javascript to detect movement with the Kinect on a web canvas, but we were miles away from the functionality we desired!

After 20 or so hours in, frustration and tiredness kicked in, and we decided to go for a nap. Long story short, we overslept and ended up knocking a further 6 hours off our time, leaving us 10 or so hours left to basically do it all. Luckily, this is where Hugh came and literally built it from scratch in Java instead of Javascript, where there’s a lot more support for the libraries. This meant that in a short period of time, thanks greatly to Hugh, we were back on track.

Although, unfortunately, come show-and-tell time, despite the team plowing ahead, we were just not finished enough to do a proper demonstration.

Hackference 2013 - Hackathon show-and-tell

And even though that was a right bugger, no-one was in a downed spirit as we all learned a hell of a lot in such a short time. The main lesson is that next time we won’t be attempting to get a Microsoft product working on an Apple product. The pain was too much!

To end, I’d just like to say a massive, and overdue thank you to Mike (@ukmadlz) for organising the event, Andrew (@teabass), Syd (@sydlawrewnce), John (@r0cket), and especially Hugh (@hughrawlinson) for all the help on the day, and everyone else at the event as everyone was brilliant. Looking forward to the next one!

If you’re interested, take a deeper look at our hack project Kinposor which we’d ideally like to open-source soon (if we ever finish it!).