Michigan gets a-hacking

My wife is from Michigan so this wasn't the first time I'd been to Ann Arbor. Last week was the most geeky (and interesting) trip thus far. I spent almost the whole of last week in Ann Arbor (A2), meeting local A2 geeks and students at the University of Michigan. It was great to see such a vibrant tech community.

Coffee House Coders at work on FlickrI spent quite a bit of time hanging out with the A2Geeks and the Coffee House Coders, who have a lot going on, from start-ups like Zattoo and Hab.la to weekly coffee shop hack meets. I was thoroughly impressed with the people I met and the ideas they were working on. Startup innovation is alive and well beyond the Silicon Valley.

Hack-U itself was, as always, a little slice of hacking heaven. Four of us Yahoos gave a total of seven lectures to probably 400+ students. You can take a look at the slides for my 101 engineer class below. It's an introduction to accessibility and some ideas about how it applies to all engineering.

A video or other embedded content has been hidden. Click here to view it.

We also talked about Search Monkey and structured data, Hadoop and YAP. Rasmus Lerdorf also gave one of his infamous talks about how he got started on PHP.

I can't of course fail to mention March Madness. Not being born in America I've never been much of a basketball fan, but seeing all the excitement that people had for their college team was infectious. Michigan were in the play-offs for the first time in 10 years and people were going crazy. You can see us at a bar with some of our friends enjoying the celebrations of the Wolverine's Thursday victory.

We ended our week in Ann Arbor with several great hacks submitted by UMich students. Here they are, in the order that they presented:

  • AA Parking - This application helps you find parking in Ann Arbor by letting you txt to a service for a list of parking garages with free spots. If you txt the name of a specific garage it will let you know if it runs out of spaces in the next 10 minutes. It uses YQL to access data about local parking garages.
  • Firesale - A service to show location based search using Yahoo! Local and Fire Eagle. It also provided relevant ads in the form of coupons for local business.
  • Know Your Tweeple - This hack is a fun game using Twitter. It shows you two random tweets from your friends and asks you to identify which friend said it from a list of five. You then get a score based on how well you performed. You better beware though if you answer wrong you might be confronted by a picture of a donkey's butt from Flickr
  • What is Hung Doing - Hung (pronounced Hang), likes to keep his friends informed about his online activities and whereabouts. So he made "What is Hung Doing" to show them where he is, using Fire Eagle and what he's up to online using APIs from Facebook, Last FM, among others.
  • Location Alarm Galore - Using Fire Eagle, this team implemented a location based alarm system. Going on a trip? Make yourself an alarm that reminds you to check for your passport when you leave the house.
  • Lokuu - The team behind Lokuu didn't quite finish their other Hacks so they showed us one of their student projects. Lokuu is like a location based Twitter where you can leave message for your friends in specific locations.
  • Keynotes in a hurry - Last but not least this hack allows you to quickly turn a presentation outline into a Keynote or Slideshare presentation

I'd also like to highlight our overall winners:

  • 1st Place Winner - Points of WOE - A 2-part hack in which Brandon "Quazie" Kwaselow integrated Yahoo! maps directly into a native iPhone application. He then extended our Where On Earth (WOE) ID system to show his own local points of interest such as restaurants. He made this API available openly for other people to be able to add points of interest, via a YQL table.
  • 2nd Place Winner - Y!Vmail - A system for listening to email over the phone. It summarized your email, using the Yahoo! term extractor

    , and floated important mails to the top. It also made great use of the address book API to allow you to call back your contacts.

You can see the full details for each Hack on our Hack Trackr for U of M

So thanks for to all our friends up north, for making it such a memorable visit. We hope to be back soon. You might like to read the article the student paper wrote about Hack U Week. Thanks U of M!

Tom Hughes-Croucher
Yahoo! Developer Network