Oi! Open Hack Day Brazil was a blast

Last weekend hundreds of Brazilian (and other Latin American) hackers came to the Senac University in Sao Paulo, Brazil to compete, meet and share information at the Open Hack Day.


I arrived a day early to help the local team plan the tech talks and set up the hack day. I was joined later by my Sunnyvale colleagues Erik Eldridge and Zach Graves and we distributed the topics we wanted to talk to the hackers about. We ended up covering the whole spectrum of the Yahoo Open Strategy - YQL, YAP, BOSS, SearchMonkey, oAuth and so on. With the help of local colleagues (who presented in Portuguese and thus making it easier for hackers) we also covered the basics of ethical hacking, where to find mashable data and how to approach a hack.

The hack day was organized into a few hours of tech talks, followed by hours and hours of hacking, playing games (Wii, Air Hockey, Table Football, a real pinball machine and some Brazilian version of table football using small disks), listening to music and watching some movies on the big screen. Contrary to the UK and US hack days there was no band, but instead we finished the hack day with a small cocktail reception and the award ceremony.

As the most seasoned hack day traveller and judge my task was also to explain to the panel of judges (two senior Senac University executives, a senior Yahoo LatAm executive, the leader of Python Brazil, a journalist from IDG and little me) the rules and non-rules of hack days, judging them and what to look out for.

The hack day organization was flawless and I cannot thank the local organizers enough for making it such a success. Getting around town in Sao Paulo can be a daunting task as it seems to be local custom to negotiate any kind of decision for several minutes in the most of amiable terms and a torrent of Portuguese. As non-native speakers this can both be confusing and frankly not possible which is why I have to thank everyone who helped us out getting to where we needed to be in time and in the most relaxed fashion.

This was my first time in Brazil and I was very much taken by the warmth of both the weather and the people. Helping each other and constantly being on the lookout for each other's needs seems to be commonplace and it is very nice to see a crowd of total strangers click instantly and overcome obstacles (language and technology related) together and having a great time doing it.

The amount of submitted hacks and the quality was amazing and all the colleagues I talked to had the same impression I got that there is a refreshing and encouraging thirst for knowledge in the Brazilian community. People were not afraid to ask questions, drag you to their table and use your expertise to get faster where they wanted to instead of trying to muddle along. The BOSS wrapper library I wrote on the hack day to make things easier spread like wildfire and several of the hacks (including one of the winners) were based on it. Another out-of-the-box product that was used a lot was the Yahoo mobile SDK BluePrint.

My colleagues in Brazil promised to publish a full list of the hacks as soon as they finished wrapping up the hack day aftermath, but for now here are my personal descriptions of the winning hacks.

We had four categories: BOSS, SearchMonkey, Mobile and Open and made up four more after seeing the hacks.

Best Mobile Hack

The winner in the mobile category was a BluePrint application that allowed users to look up government information and laws applying to the region they are in at the moment. We were especially impressed that this was a requirement that customers of the hacker's company had been wanting for a quite a while but he had no idea how to build something like this until he got introduced to BluePrint on hack day.

Best BOSS Hack

The winner in the BOSS category was a band information application that would find all kind of information about your favourite bands, including upcoming concerts in your area taken from Brazilian data providers.

Best Open Hack

The winner of the open category was an application to track the change of licensing in photos posted on Flickr. As it is possible to change the license of a photo from Creative Commons to full copyright this can lead to problems in using them in your products. The tool provided would allow for an API to tell you when the licensing of the photos you are using (marked as favourites) changes.

Best SearchMonkey Hack

The winner of the SearchMonkey category pushed XPATH and XSLT to its limits by including category links scraped from Wikipedia articles into search results from WikiPedia.

Best Green Hack

The first made-up category - green hack - was a mobile application that allows you to track your fuel consumption by entering the information of how much petrol (or alcohol in Brazil!) you used and what mileage you got every time to fill up your car. The system gives you a graph to show your consumption habits and in a second phase will allow you to share and compare the information with other users.

The "Bridging the gap" Hack

One hack that was very close to my heart and that got the "Bridging the Gap" award was actually a whole set of hacks built by a group of about ten developers that started collaborating at the hack day. All of these hacks revolved around the concept of bringing Yahoo APIs - and especially BluePrint - to the Java Developer world by integrating information into Java IDEs (NetBeans) and building SDKs and wrappers for Java Technologies. I hope we can follow this up very closely and get all this information up on the Yahoo Developer Network soon.

The "What the Hack?"

The "What the Hack?" category winners were a group that took the word "hack" very much to their heart and integrated everything but the kitchen sink into a hack that showed the flow of information of the hack day on all kind of interfaces. Using Python, Flickr, Twitter and open source hardware the team did not only bring their own whiteboard after realizing we didn't provide any but they also built a circuit board with LEDs that flickered more or less intensely depending on how many people tagged photos on Flickr with the official hack day tag. Which of the LEDs blinked and their colour was defined by how may people twittered about the hack day. There was also a sound component that would make the circuit board play differently pitched sounds depending on other activity on the web related to the hack day. In general the hack was as impressive as it was confusing and it was simply a joy to behold when the group of eight hackers all went up on stage with all kind of mobiles, notebooks, sub-notebooks, cameras and newly built hardware to show us what is happening on the web right at this moment related to the hack day.

The "Using the environment" Hack

The "Using the environment" category winner was a video that showed what the beanbags provided to sleep and relax on can be used for. The team showed an immense creativity in this building kayaks, race cars, TV sets and lots lots more and watching the movie had the whole hack audience in stitches. You can watch it for yourself:

Puff Hacking from fczuardi on Vimeo.

All in all I am very happy to have been a part of this hack day, and there are far too many stories to be told and things to be shown to cover in one blog post. Simply make sure to follow the tag "brhackday08" on the web and see more and more things being released, written and shown in the next few days.

Chris Heilmann
Yahoo Developer Network