Hack U™ at Carnegie Mellon: Attend concerts, solve math problems, and more

CMU Hack U 2011

Fall semester is here, and it's time for your Hack U™ team to hit the road. During our September 29 - October 1, 2011 stay at Carnegie Mellon University, we witnessed 20 brand-new student projects rise up after 24 hours of non-stop hacking.

CMU Hack U 2011

On Thursday, we got things started with a nice chat what Hack U is all about: You build, then you present to win prizes after a 24 hour non-stop hackathon. Our CMU stop has a twist: in association with the Tepper School of Business, serious prize money and funding was at stake for going beyond a successful hack to pitch a successful business. Computer Science students with big ambition were able to team up with MBA students to deliver not only a cool demo, but a sustainable business plan.

CMU Hack U 2011

CMU Hack U

Hacking

CMU Hack U

In the end, 52 hackers operating under teams like "The Power Ragers", "Sparq Industries", "The BROosevelts", and aptly-named "Team Tired" reached the finish line with a working hack.

Puzzles

We had some fun during the night: questions were posted on @hacku and Freenode.net's #hacku for giveaways throughout the night. The first winner wrote a program that decoded the input string to the literal string "English", of course. The real winner was this entry posted a few minutes later, which fits in a tweet:

ruby -e 'p "LVD BCDMNWCB JAN BNARXDBUH JFNBXVN".bytes.map{|b|b<65?b.chr: ((b-74)%26+65).chr}.join'

Very nice. We used Turntable.fm to let the hackers play whatever music they wanted on the house speakers and had a few fully-automatic Nerf gun assaults, but in the end this group got stuff done.

Subramanyan and I were on hand during the event to help hackers as they worked with Node.js, YUI and YQL to complete their hacks. Flickr, Upcoming.org and the Yahoo! Term Extractor APIs were used inside of YQL for great effect.

Groopiez

Groopiez

Groopiez Demo

Up first: Groopiez, here to help you find people to go to concerts with. This idea isn't brand new (see Tastebuds, Songkick, Last.fm) but Groopiez reduces itself down into the bare essentials: login with Facebook, find concerts, and most importantly, agree on when and where you should meet. It's all very simple and easy, and unlike the competition, you don't have to be friends first, nor does it have an awkard dating-site feel. If you live in Pittsburgh, give Groopiez a try.

Math Pad

MathPad

MathPad Demo

Math Pad introduces a collaborative working environment for Math students: anything you type is synchronized with everyone and rendered live using MathJax. Simply send your Math Pad room URL with your friend (or professor, dad, etc.) and start tackling a problem together. Not only that: Math Pad hooks up with the Twilio API to automatically connect your mic and speakers to a conference call with others in your room. During the demo, a student typed out the missing piece of his solution as he talked with his dad, which colored us impressed. Math Pad was deployed with Joyent's no.de hosting platform for Node.js, so it's more than ready for you to create your own Math Pad.

Locality

Locality

Locality is a dead-simple loyalty card program for your business. A one-click signup (using your existing Google account) gets you started fast: just type your business name and the reward desired after so many visits. Locality gives you a printable sign with a QR code that customers can scan to earn rewards that'll keep them coming back. Even better: Locality gives business owners metrics to give understanding not possible with simple punch cards. With their competition getting acquired by Google, Locality is not only in an interesting space, they're also available in one-click after being built from scratch in 24 hours.

Tukio

Tukio is an Android application that shows you aggregate pictures, tweets, videos and other media that others are creating around you. Although you won't find this in the Android Market quite yet, this team made an impressive showing considering they did not have a physical Android device at their disposal to test on. Inspired by events like Hack U, their demo featured media from Flickr, Twitter and Yahoo! Video -- all relevant and all in one place. This hack was all the more impressive since the team delivered despite Flickr's unexpected spa retreat during the night. Kudos!

Happoning

Happoning

Say you're planning a party, but you only want to go through the trouble if enough people will come. Enter Happoning. Enter a few quick event details and you're given a URL to share. Your friends are presented with the invite page that looks similar to a Groupon deal, but it works pretty well: if enough people RSVP, the party is on. If not, the deal is off. With zero signup, you're given both a URL to share and a URL to change or cancel the event, so there's no excuse to plan your next party now. This hack was my favorite.

The winners

Trophy

Here's how it all broke down:

  • First place: Groopiez, walked away with two iPad 2 with Yahoo! iPad cases
  • Second place: Math Pad, won a $100 American Express card
  • Third place: Tukio, each winners of The Huge Yahoo! Swag Bag
  • Judge's Pick: Locality, by Anthony Tomasic, Professor, CMU Very Large Information Systems
  • Judge's Pick: Squiggo (demo screenshot), by Subramanyan Murali, Yahoo! Mail Frontend Engineer

CMU Hack U

Congrats to everyone who participated! You guys and gals rock.

Until next time

CMU Hack U

The Hack U tour bus makes its next stop at UCLA on October 13 - 15, 2011. Until then, have a look at our photos from Hack U CMU 2011 and play with CMU's amazing hacks.

About the author

Reid Burke (@reid) is an engineer for YUI at Yahoo! and really enjoys a good hackathon.