Hack Day report: smells like Dunkirk spirit

If I could boil down the Hack Day ethos to one simple statement, it would be
this one: expect the unexpected. But who would have expected not one but TWO direct lightning strikes on
Alexandra Palace (or "Ally Pally" to the locals) over a very short period just as our London Hack Day was getting started? That's exactly what happened. The first bolt simply caused some electrical difficulties and sporadic power outages. The second bolt was, well, thunderous, and gave a jolt to Ally Pally's fire suppressions system, causing vents in the roof to open up to let in torrents of that infamous English rain. I had been finishing up a media interview when the monstrous BOOM! reverberated through the building and the chatter on the volunteers' radios became deafening:


Nature had hacked the building! As hacker Jeremy Keith wrote, "Who knew that the first hack of the day would be trying to figure out how to hack Alexandra Palace? It was actually kind of fun? stiff upper lip; spirit of the Blitz and all that. . . ."

Once the shock (no pun intended!) wore off, it was was fun, but this was. . . . shall we say. . . "unplanned" for an indoor event. At the first Open Hack Day at the Yahoo! headquarters in Sunnyvale, I had worried about the
automated sprinklers on the Yahoo! lawn since hackers were camping there overnight, but I
never even thought about water from *above* for the London edition.

It was then that I learned something firsthand about the British "Dunkirk spirit" that I had always heard about
in history class, but never witnessed personally (I wasn't the only one who thought of Dunkirk). As water poured through the
open vents in the roof, I saw several hackers quietly whip out their umbrellas
and keep hacking away (this photo says it all). Lightning isn't kind to wi-fi, so while the wi-fi was out,
the hackers improvised, moving their hacking to whiteboards and pieces of paper.
They turned the building itself into a wiki of sorts, dragging their "furniture"
(a few hundred bean bags) out into the dry Palm Court area. After some inspired
hacking of the building by the Yahoo, BBC, and Alexandra Palace teams, we were back up and
running in the (slightly damp) West Hall. Ah, London. A little spirit of the Blitz here in Alexandra Palace.

As I write this early on Sunday morning, the hackers here in London are hard at
work, the sun is out, and the vents in the ceiling are closed. The umbrellas have been put away (but still within easy reach!), the wifi
is solid, and the energy is intense. In a city that was bombed heavily in World War II and in a building that
has nearly burned to the ground twice
, a couple of bolts of lightning were
hardly enough to register alarm. The hacking goes on.

More later when the hack demos begin. . . .stay tuned! (and stay dry!)

(For more on the goings-on at Alexandra Palace, checkout the hackdaylondon tag in del.icio.us and Flickr)

- Chad Dickerson