Report from Carnegie Mellon University Hack Day

The HackU team spent last week at CMU in Pittsburgh. CMU has just opened their new Gates-Hillman building and we put it to good use. Hadoop was a big topic throughout the week with multiple talks and plenty of interest. YQL, as always during Hack, was popular as was Twitter and Flickr.

The 24-hour Hack period went from Friday at 2pm to Saturday at 2pm this time. Many students stayed all night. Erik Eldridge kept them company working all night on Hadoop. Phillip Tellis appeared on his magic JetBlue carpet from somewhere and helped out as well which allowed Paul and I to get some sleep for a change.

We ended up with 17 hacks being presented on Saturday afternoon.

Notable hacks included a Flickr Activity Notifier which let you put your email address in a photo note and get notified about activity on that photo. The hack removes the email address, for privacy and spam reasons, and keeps track of who to notify.

CreepyChat - uses GeoLocation in FF3.5 to do location-aware chatting with random strangers who happen to be close by. Creepy, indeed.

U#TV - scrapes the Yahoo! TV listings and shows recent tweets about the show. It also keeps track of the number of tweets during the show so you can go back and see what points in the show got people talking.

WikiRacr - is a Wikipedia game where you try to get from one Wikipedia page to another in the fewest Wikipedia clicks and shortest time. While this has been done before, this implementation is better, has a leaderboard and a ghost racing feature. Try it out!

MyCL - lets users review Craigslist postings either on the web site or via Twitter.

Tagr - creates machine tags for your Delicious bookmarks.

Other hacks included a WebComic Aggregator, which intelligently found the right comic image from the top-level comic URL and built a nice page with your favourite comics. We also saw SearchMonkey Epicurious plugin - and a Twitter GeoSearch hack called Carmen.

The Hadoop prize went to a hack called WikiPaths that calculated the shortest path between Wikipedia nodes. That could, of course, be combined with the WikiRacr game for interesting results.

3rd prize went to an impressive hack called Shared Payments. It lets users create a payment pool for buying things. It can either be an evenly split pool, or an open budget pool where people put in as much as they can afford. It uses the Amazon APIs for product lookups and payment and with a little more work could actually become a really useful service.

2nd prize went to Cohort. The hack calculates the shortest indoor path between any two classrooms on the CMU campus. It took a massive effort to analyze and enter the data required for this hack and the result was a very usable application, which again, with a bit more work could turn into something that would see a lot of use on campus.

And finally, the winning hack was called FlickrThrough. It takes a search term and finds a photo on Flickr matching the term. Then it takes the other results from that search term and uses those to generate the first photo. So, if you search for "cat", you will end up with a picture of a cat made of pictures of cats.

Thanks to the students and faculty at CMU for another fun HackU week. We hope to see you again next year.

Rasmus Lerdorf
Technical Yahoo