Weblogs: Web Accessibility

London Open Hack Day June 2007

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Saturday 16 June 2007 is the first day of the first Open Hackday in the UK. We're at Alexandra Palace in North East London, a venue big enough to hold the 400 odd hackers, plus the expected 1000 people attending the concert tomorrow. Open Hackday is a joint venture between Yahoo! Europe and the BBC, and so there's about 100+ people from both organisations, including David Filo, the co-founder of Yahoo, and Ash Patel the director of Platforms and Engineering in Yahoo.

Hacking Alexandra Palace

Alexandra Palace is a famous landmark, distinguished by the massive broadcast mast. It was featured in a Doctor Who episode last year, reinforcing its usage as a broadcasting centre. It sits on a hill overlooking South East London, you can see the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf from here. There's no taller structure for miles around, so Alexandra Palace really stands out. As a venue, it fits in with the Hack day ethos (this became more ironic early on).

The ground rules for us technical helpers is fairly clear, we aren't allowed to hack or present a hack. Its understandable, because of the quality of the webdev team in particular (we've garnered a monopoly on hackday awards in the last two internal Hackdays), we couldn't have a situation where a Yahoo! sponsored events was won by Yahoo! hackers. Its fair enough. As a technical helper I can at least guide or encourage other hacks, and watch them grow from their initial conceptions into the finished product.

Morning talks

The morning was taken up by hour long talks over three tracks. I chose to listen to Dan Theurer and Ryan Kennedy talk about BBAuth and the Yahoo! Mail API. Followed by a talk on Yahoo! Maps. Brad (and the associated awesome pose) talked about the Yahoo! Answer API. The initial version is fairly plain, but for this hackday there's an extra couple of API calls that really dig into some useful and valuable Answers data. These new API calls will probably see the public light later on in the year alongside APIs that allow you to ask new questions.

Christian Heilmann and Nate Koechley did a good rapid overview of the YUI, particularly Chris' explanation of why YUI is a useful library - its an industrial solution to every day problems. Nate went through the features of the library, and talked about the benefits.

God's amazing hack

London weather is just London weather, sunshowers every half hour or so. Gradually the rain hardened, and we had a real rain storm. With thunder and lightning. Being in a building that's above all others, with a whacking great transmission mast attached to the roof, its pretty obvious what happened. We got struck.

The lightning strike took out the main electricity of the building and set off the fire alarms. Being in a massive hall we were pretty safe. All four hundred geeks with laptops plugged in flickring away. Unfortunately, when the fire alarm is tripped, the ceiling vents open up, and so it started raining inside the hall, packed full of 400 geeks and their laptops.

The fire board blew, so it couldn't be switched off, and the ceiling vents couldn't be closed, and the rain was pouring down. After the mad panic of geeks desperately saving their laptops (not many geeks have waterproof laptops - who needs waterproof laptops when you are indoors?), we migrated back into the foyer at least until the ceiling vents could be closed.

So God won the first hackday prize of the day for his building hack. We're not sure whether he used the BBC Weather API before unleashing his masterstroke of genius. But hands-down, it was a tremendous hack of elegant simplicity. It had the entire crowd in uproar. And a little early - the actual hacking time hadn't started yet.


Its taken about two hours before we could re-enter the hackday hall. But the atmosphere among the geeks has been pretty good. We're back in the hall, and the hacking is underway. I might spend a few hours working on one of my little projects. See how it goes.


Aral is working on adding more API features to his SWX format. Neil Crosby and Steve Webster are using SWX to build a badge for the ten word review.

There's a hack going on to create an interactive fiction out of APIs, that sounded interesting when it was first mentioned on the unofficial hackday wiki. I'm glad they are taking that idea and running with it. I'm toying with text adventure interactive fiction type ideas, particularly looking at perhaps recreating an extensible MUD in a distributive fashion, so this hack caught my eye.

Yahoo presence

Both David Filo and Ash Patel are over from the states doing a tour of Yahoo in Europe, its great to see them here at an open hackday, and both of them are prepared to get stuck in and help. Its hard for me, after working for a prim and proper financial services company, to see two well respected leaders mucking around with us mortal geeks. I think that's part of why I'm feeling quite settled in Yahoo today - I'm working with an organisation where every person is respected, respectful and human.

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