Open Hack: From Sunnyvale to São Paulo

On a beautiful afternoon last week, I boarded a plane bound for Brazil along with Zach Graves, coworker, ActionScript developer on the Yahoo! Application Platform, and author of the Y! OS ActionScript SDK. Thirteen leg-cramping hours later, we descended through rain clouds and over forested hills interspersed with estates and farms, to land in São Paulo, the location of the first ever Brazil Open Hack Day.

At one point in the long ride from the airport to the city, we crested a hill and caught our first glimpse of the metropolitan area: a jagged, white wall of skyscrapers stretched across our entire field of view. Yahoo!'s São Paulo office is located in a bustling commercial district. From my room on the 22nd floor of a hotel just down the block, I was treated to another perspective of the city: looking between and across the tops of high-rises as far as I could see - the city is as deep as it is wide. And it's growing. Directly across the street another tower was under construction with workers on the site 24-hours a day.

I mention this impression of industry and growth because it permeated Hack Day as well. The event was scheduled to start at 8 AM on a Saturday, a bit early for some, but by 8:00 a line of hackers had already formed. When we opened the doors, they filed in and set immediately to work. In all, 120 hackers participated. I was very impressed with the level of focus in the room throughout the event. Later, during the hack presentations, I would be impressed again by the degree of creativity expressed in the projects.

SENAC University hosted Hack Day and provided us with a large, well-equipped, multi-room facility that appeared to be new. The Yahoos and hired staff who planned and oversaw the event did an amazing job priming the location for hacking. Colorful signs featuring the Hack Day robots denoted points of interest and a large projection screen displayed the Hack Day Flickr-Twitter real-time collage. They installed industrial-grade wireless, and furnished the space with lots of oversized, purple beanbag chairs, aka puffs, long rows of tables with numerous power supplies, and 50 desktop computers for those without laptops. Search Flickr for the tag brhackday08 to get pics of the event and the venue.

Classes for the day were organized into two tracks: one focused on SearchMonkey, BOSS, Blueprint, and Y!OS; track two covered OAuth, the Social APIs, YQl, YAP, Caja, and OpenSocial. All of the talks were well-attended and afterward the hackers put to use many of the concepts discussed. Much interest was expressed for BOSS and YQL. Flickr and Blueprint were also widely explored. Some hackers worked individually, while others coalesced into teams of 2 and 3. One team had around 15 members and brought in their own desktop computers, whiteboard, two $100 laptops, and assorted circuit building hardware. The team took up such a large area and consisted of so many people, I didn't realize they were a single group until they presented.

The food provided was delicious and worth noting. Attendees received lunch and dinner, with vegetarian and non-veg options. Additionally, the food service staff periodically brought out fresh, nutritious, and tasty snacks including empanadas, soup, a variety of cakes and cookies, fresh-squeezed fruit juices, whole fruit, flan, rice pudding, and fresh coffee. My favorite was the fresh-squeezed pineapple-mint juice served early Sunday morning. We were well fed.

Throughout the event, an eclectic mix of R&B, hip hop, rock, alternative, and trance music served to keep us awake, motivated, and relaxed. To lighten the mood late in the night, we were treated to the entire Iron Man movie, clips from Dr. Horrible and Monty Python's Holy Grail, and, in honor of the Sunnyvale Open Hack Day, Free Bird by Lynyrd Skynyrd.

As usual, Yahoos were on hand all night for technical support. When he wasn't answering questions, Chris Heilmann hacked together a JavaScript wrapper for BOSS that simplifies BOSS usage to a few lines of JavaScript. One big stumbling block we observed was the authentication processes required by many web services, including many of Yahoo!'s recent releases. BOSS was the notable exception here, which is perhaps one reason it was widely embraced.

Ryan Teixeira, software architect and hack day organizer from Yahoo!'s Miami office, discussed this issue at length with Zach and I. We reaffirmed a commitment to clarifying the authentication process and developing more tools like YOS's PHP and ActionScript SDKs and Flickr's API explorer to help make the authentication flow easier to work with.

The deadline for hack submissions was 3PM on Sunday. We all migrated to the lecture rooms, which had been merged into a single hall for the presentations. Rows of puff chairs lined one wall. Ryan broadcast the presentations on, and the event was translated into English for the benefit of the non-Brazilians. Senior administrators and student journalists from SENAC also attended the event.

Of the 36 hacks submitted, my three favorites were the Puff Hacking video, (also noted by Christian and Yodel Anecdotal), the Twitter-Answers mashup oracle Fasassim that often fell comically short of omniscience, and the real-time audio-visual representation of Hack Day-related Twitter and Flickr traffic. Chris Heilmann's post on the YDN blog details the winning submissions. The Brazil Hack Day wiki describes all the projects submitted.

A brief after-party gave us all a chance to chat with our new friends before we disbanded and returned to our homes. Although I am admittedly biased, I think the event was a huge success. Everyone involved, and especially the Yahoos from São Paulo and Miami and all the participants, deserve much praise for their efforts.

Erik Eldridge
YDN Engineer/Evangelist