Yahoo! Openhack EU (Bucharest)

A pair of history enthusiastsLast weekend, I was invited to attend the Yahoo! Openhack EU event that was held in Bucharest, Romania as part of a team of “History Enthusiasts” to try and help participants generate ideas using cultural sector data. This came about from the really successful History Hack Day that Matt Patterson organised earlier this year and due to this, Yahoo!’s Murray Rowan invited him to assemble a team to go to Romania and evangelise. Our team comprised myself, Jo Pugh from the National Archives and our leader Matt; we went armed with the datasets that were made available for the hackday and a list of apis from Mia Ridge (formerly of the Science Museum and now pursuing a PhD).

The Openhack event (hosted in the Crystal Palace Ballrooms – don’t leave the complex we were told, the wild dogs will get you!) started with a load of tech talks, most interesting for me was the YQL one (to see how things had progressed), Douglas Crockford (watched this on video later) on JSON and also Ted Drake‘s accessibility seminar. One thing I thought that was absent was the Geo element, something that is extremely strong at Yahoo! (api wise before you moan about maps) and an element that always features strongly at hack days in mashups or hacks. Our team then gave a series of short presentations to the Romanians who were interested in our data unfortunately not too many, but that seemed to be the norm for the enthusiasts. We felt that a lot of people had already come with ideas and were using the day as a collaborative catalyst to present their work, not that this is a bad thing, be prepared and your work will be more focused at these events. Between us we talked about the success of the hackday at the Guardian and Jo presented material from the National Archives and then we discussed ideas with various people throughout the day; for example:

  1. Accessing shipping data – one of the teams we spoke to wanted some quite specific data about routes. However, we found a static html site with a huge amount of detail and suggested scraping and then text extraction for entities mentioned and producing a mashup based on this – see submarines hack
  2. How to use Google Earth time slider to get some satellite imagery for certain points in time (the deforestation project was after this)
  3. Where you can access museum type information – history hack days list
  4. Which apis they could use – Mia Ridge’s wiki list

I tried to do a few things whilst there, some Twitter analysis with Gephi and R (laptop not playing ball with this) and building some YQL opentables for Alchemy’s text extraction apis and Open Library (I’ll upload these when tested properly). Matt looked at trying to either build a JSON api or a mobile based application for Anna Powell-Smith‘s excellent Domesday mapping project (django code base) and Jo played with his data for Papal bullae from the National Archives using Google’s fusion tables and also looking at patterns within the  syntax via IBM’s Manyeyes tool.

Ursus blackHacking then progressed for the next 24 hours, interspersed with meals and  some entertainment provided by the Algorythmics (see the embedded video below from Ted Drake) who danced a bubble sort in Romanian folk style, and 2 brief interludes to watch the Eurovision (Blue and the Romanian entry). We retired to the bar at the JW Marriot for a few Ursus beers and then back to the Ibis for the night before returning the next day to see what people had produced to wow their fellow hackers and a panel of judges. Unfortunately, I had to head back to the UK (to help run the ARCN CASPAR conference) from OTP when the hacks were being presented, so I didn’t get to see the finished products. The internet noise reveals some awesome work and a few that I liked the sound of are commented on below. I also archived off all the twitter chat using the #openhackeu hashtag if anyone would like these (currently over 1700 tweets). There was also some brilliant live blogging by a very nice chap called Alex Palcuie, which gives you a good idea of how the day progressed.

So, after reading through the hacks list, these are my favourites:

  1. Mood music
  2. The Yahoo! Farm – robotics and web technology meshed, awesome
  3. Face off (concept seems good)
  4. Pandemic alert – uses webgl (only chrome?)
  5. Where’s tweety

And these are the actual winners (there was also a proper ‘hack’, which wasn’t really in the vein of the competition as laid out on the first day, but shows skill!):

  • Best Product Enhancement – TheBatMail
  • Hack for Social Good – Map of Deforested Areas in Romania
  • Best Yahoo! Search BOSS Hack – Take a hike
  • Best Local Hack –  Tourist Guide
  • Hacker’s choice – Yahoo farm
  • Best Messenger Hack – Yahoo Social Programming
  • Best Mashup – YMotion
  • Best hacker in show – Alexandru Badiu, he built 3 hacks in 24 hours!

To conclude, Murray Rowan and Anil Patel‘s team produced a fantastic event which for once had a very high proportion of women (maybe 10-25% of an audience of over 300) in attendance – which will please many of the people I know via Twitter in the UK and beyond. We met some great characters (like Bogdan Iordache) and saw the second biggest building on the planet (it was the biggest on 9/11 the taxi drivers proudly claim) and met a journalist I never want to meet again….. According to the hackday write up, 1090 cans of Red Bull, 115 litres of Pepsi and 55 lbs of coffee were consumed (and a hell of a lot of food seeing some of the food mountains that went past!)

Here’s to the next one. Maybe a cultural institution can set a specific challenge to be cracked at this. And I leave you with Ted Drake‘s video:

Scuba diving, Sharm el Sheikh

Kate with her favourite fish
Kate with her favourite fish - 2 clownfish

We’ve just returned from a week in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt where we spent a week diving in the company of Kate’s sister and brother-in-law. Our base, at the Hilton Fayrouz, was perfect for the town’s nightlife and using the facilities of Ocean College dive school which is based next door. We usually dive with Emperor Divers, but as they had moved from the Rosetta, we were too lazy to go and find their new offices, and Ocean College had an excellent value deal of 4 days diving for £89! Unfortunately, we had to do a scuba review as we’ve been a bit slack diving recently and Ahmed Aladin was our instructor and dive guide for our 5 days of diving. He’s an excellent teacher, very good on safety perhaps at the expense of pointing out sea life, but he’s one of the better instructors I’ve been diving with.

April diving in the Red Sea, is far colder than any diving I have done since 1996 and the excavations at Caesarea, Israel and it was the first time I’ve worn neoprene since then. Sea temperature is around 21° C and air temperature around 28°C, but the wind can freeze you rapidly once out of the water. Remember a jumper at this time of year! Dive sites visited included the normal Tiran sites and Ras Mohammed perennial favourites and we didn’t see a huge amount of larger pelagic sea life, a few turtles, tuna and one octopus. The Yolanda wreck seems to have detoriated slightly with some displacement of the bath furniture since our last visit, but it is still a pretty good site to visit.

Sharm has developed since our last visit there, with the huge Savoy complex and the soulless Soho Square adjacent to their property (includes ice rink and bowling alley and you can swap your Egyptian pounds for Akuna money!). The Savoy hotel is pretty impressive, colonial style bar with Zebra printed bar furniture (apparently a dress code, but I got in) and reasonable Stella Lager price, multiple levels and a huge swimming pool. However, it is far out from the interesting part of town. The Hilton Fayrouz, which is on the main promenade is pretty good value and has a private beach. Street hawkers still try and sell you banjo (weed) and the Camel Bar has had a significant make over, but it is still a good place for people watching, sheeshah smoking and drinking on the roof. The airport has improved substantially, but still has typical Egyptian toilets (only place I was asked for Baksheesh all week.)

Money matters

Taxi from Na’ama Bay to Soho Square – 35 LE
Taxi from Na’ama Bay to airport – 50 LE (set price is normally 60 LE)
Taxi from airport to Na’ama Bay – they try it on, starting at 300 LE, you can get this down to a reasonable fee if you haggle hard. Yalla!
Diving at Ocean College – Scuba review £79 inc equipment, 4 day dive pack £89 (normally £220), £25 per day equipment hire, 5o LE per day drinks and food bill on boat, 5 euros per day for RasMo entry (hasn’t changed for ages I think!)
Flight on Easyjet around £220 pp
Sandwiches cheaper on Easyjet than buying at SES airport, don’t buy beer to drink on the plane at the airport, you get told off.

Good places to eat/ drink

Fairuz Lebanese and Sidi Wadie Moroccan restaurant – 2nd floor of the Na’ama Centre
Tam Tams (cheap Egyptian fare – hasn’t changed)
Pirates at the Hilton Fayrouz (but you’ll see a lot of football on big screens)
Camel Bar

Free wifi

Ghazala beach bar – and also happy hour drinks 2 for 1

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