GTUG Android Hackathon 28/11 2009

Earlier this year, I had an idea for an all-day event for hacking on some Google technology. When I proposed this to the group at a GTUG meeting, I was reasonably certain that Wave was going to be chosen as the technology in question, and to my surprise instead Android took home most of the votes.

So, Android it was. No worries, though, as I'm a great friend of the platform - even though it is still officially restricted to Google's brand of Java, but more of that this Thursday when Mikael Kindborg will do a talk on JavaScript on the Android, among other talks (including Sony Ericsson's Strategy Manager Thomas Bailey).

The process running up to the Hackathon was almost Kafkanesque in nature. Not at the beginning, where Bwin Games agreed to host the Hackathon (on a Saturday) at their lavish premises in central Stockholm. Later, when it was apparent that the budget was rather tight at Q4 (in (yet another) year of recession) to provide dinner - something I felt was a necessity for an event stretching from 9.00am to 8.00pm.

After getting literally dozens of great leads after I reached out to the community, on twitter (I'm @psvensson) and beyond, I had as many as four different companies that tried to find resources within their organizations to no avail (but thanks for the effort nonetheless!). Finally I got a possible sponsor, but then it turned out that sponsorship is a sensitive issue and the company in question had agendas parallell to that of Bwin for providing the venue in the first place.

With only days left, I had to call in the cavalry and use my contacts at Google (Thanks Serge and Stephanie!) who agreed to take the bill for the dinner.

What? You want to know about the Hackathon and not my orgnaizational ramblings? Why didn't you say so? Here goes:

As many as 49 people had signed up for the Hackathon, 43 on LinkedIn and 6 by direct email, and after all was said and done 33 showed up, but what a group. We got people from Plusfoursix, Isotop, everbody from Appcorn (who had attended whole day iPhone developer event the day before), HiQ, COMBOL and many others.

Several people came just to see Dirk Groten, CTO  from the progressive Augmented Reality company Layar, who had graciously agreed to come up to Stockholm and demonstrate how to build service and applicaitons with their system. Layar is just at the time of this writing about to reveal their new polygonal 3D service, which lets developers created fairly complex polygons at specific geographical locations, which ups the ante a bit.

After Dirk, we had a talk from our own Johan Burell, who had a thorough walk-through of the Rokon gaming library for Android, which provides a lot of simplifying wrappers for 2D gaming, which several of the groups later used.

After the talks were done, we had a light but satisfying wraps-based lunch provided by Bwin and then on to coding.

The atmosphere during the whole day was very open and friendly. Teams helped each other out on several occasions, fixing solutions to MapView dynamic updating to getting the current GPS position.

Also, there was (at least I had quite a few :) a lot of general discussions on and off, about whether it was amoral for Craigslist to provide free advertising, thus putting newspapers out of business, the recent split of the Squeak Smalltalk platform into Pharo, CouchDb REST musings and lots of other stuff.

What I mean to say is that these coders weren't your garden variety lockergnomes, these were hard people, OK? just saying :)

Some teams borrowed meeting rooms from Bwin to doodle on white boards, but most teams huddled down in groups, hacking intently as the dusk fell over Stockholm. Actually, dusk was all we had that day, steel-blue clouds and a mere thirty seconds or so of sun.

At the end of the day, each time got one minute - sometimes a verrry long minute - to present their application. After everyone had presented, everybody present (some people had to leave before the presentations) voted by raising their hands (only one vote per person) on the app they liked best - and one was not allowed to vote for ones own. As it turned out first price went to the Bwin team with their app "Crimesweeper", which got real-time police crime scene data, and mashed it up in a MapView, awarding points for players who visited the scene (vigilante.apk?)

The second-price winners had made a very creative game app which tracked the players and plotted them on each others screens, and provided a method for throwing virtual water baloons at each other.

Then one team had made a very useful Hudson front-end for Android where you could start Java build jobs and check their statuses.

One team had made almost a space shooter with the Rokon library, but due to time constraints it was actually a "space dodger" - tasteful nonetheless.
There was an app which demonstrated a CouchDB library for the Android, something really useful.

One app which was made by an attendee who was forced to leave before the voting (please comment if you remember who - thx!) made an app for kids learning words using images and rotating letters - which was very appreciated, but got few votes. Strange, but what do you do? :)

We had another app by single-team @sharj, which used the twitter API to get a random twitter user bio and let you follow if you liked it. In the future he means to add support for recommending users based on usage patterns.

And he got another one as well, which used the recent Google Movies API to list movies and to say which ones you were going to see, foursquare-style, of sorts.

@burre83's team made a rhythm-action app, which was surprisingly catchy, tempting the player to hit random parts of the screen in time to the music.

A couple of teams did not finish, but a couple came surprisingly far, given their ambitions.

What was interesting was that so many teams had such divergent  ideas, and that so many attendees came without really any prior Android development experience - and still managed to produce runnable code!

The winners and the second place teams got each a book from Apress called "Pro Android" which in my opinion is the most comprehensive one out there. The winning team also got some really nice Google drinking bottles and my very last Android keyring trinkets,which were much appreciated.

This left me with a couple of books left (since Apress had sent me 10), which after due consideration was given to to teams which I felt needed them the most, for different reasons.:)

When everything was wrapping up, we decided to go down to the local pub Bishops Arms at Vasagatan for some beers and lots of discussion - some about Psytrance and scouting if I recall correctly.

In retrospect the day went very smooth, mostyl due to the playful professionalism of all present. Also, since most of the day was spent by the attendees hacking I had several hours on and off where I could blog about my adventures in Russia and other events that needed some writing.

This had been hanging over me for some time, and it felt really good to be in a position to do something about it, between coaching sessions and general discussions.

Something that really meant a lot to me was that three separate people, on separate occasions, went up to me and said how great they thought the event was and thanked me for arranging it. Me, who really didn't do much in particular, other than yakking and blogging :)

Thank you so much! ^-^