First occasional Think Tank Portland hack morning

Today we had the first of a series of hack mornings at the Think Tank Congress coworking space where I spend most of my working time. Abe Fettig organized it, and even arranged coffee from Speckled Ax and potato donuts from Holy Donut as well as giving away of few copies of Programming Twisted, 2nd Edition. The idea of a hack morning is to take a break from your normal projects and work on something new or experimental, and then do a 3 minute demo of what you learned/accomplished at the end. Working on the ideas together in the same room with a ticking clock is a nice change of pace and encourages a lot of information sharing. We had coffee at 8:30, worked until 11:30, and then did a bunch of demos. There were 6 of us that participated, and another half dozen that stopped by to watch the demos, so it was a lively morning.

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="292"]Think Tank Congress Hack Morning Photo credit Jason Sandifer[/caption]

I had been itching to get a Geckoboard custom map widget to draw a map on a dashboard using data from my own JSON API, and last night Daniel Piltch of Freeport Metrics offered to bring over a new Raspberry Pi, so we teamed up and built a kiosk. The Raspberry Pi is a cheap, tiny computer with no moving parts or fans that runs linux. We managed to get the Raspberry Pi to boot directly into Google Chromium running in kiosk mode and loading a Geckboard dashboard with my custom latitude/longitude points displayed along with the event schedule for Think Tank pulled from Google Calendar, all displayed on a big HDMI monitor. I can't wait to do more with the Raspberry Pi, it is a remarkable little device.

Hugh Morgenbesser of TripAdvisor worked on a Django project where he built a web UI that allowed people to enter a street address, and then he used the Google mapping APIs to geocode the address into latitude/longitude points and store the whole thing in a database, and then plotted the markers on a map. It was cool to see this, it's the very next step I need for my own mapping project. Continuing on the mapping theme, Patrick Kenney of Deviceable worked on a business model canvas and a Rails app which he described as "Pinterest for Modern Architecture & Art". This took mapping local: the idea is to enable people to share interesting/noteworthy buildings, art installations, and other points of interest, and then discover what is nearby based on your location.

Hasan Adil of LabelTop Software decided to try Ember.js. He has been building a project management application for iOS, and wanted to expand into making a web version. He managed to get a TODO list app running all in Ember.js, and showed off the polished interactions. Hasan described his approach as opposite from lowest-common-denominator thinking - he is building a whole new codebase for the web version because wants his product to take full advantage of the strengths of each different platform.

Abe Fettig of planned to get his hands dirty with drawing and graphics, and exercise an idea about music recommendations based on longitudinal analysis of listening habits - don't just consider what you have rated as 5 stars, but figure out e.g White Stripes are more of a summer band than a winter band. He managed to pull together graphs of listening frequency over time for his whole iTunes library from the last few years, and plans to add in data from Spotify & Rdio next. He plotted against the seasons and it was interesting to see that there were some seasonal patterns in a few of the bands.

Overall this was a lot of fun, and definitely worth the effort of carving out a morning to do it. I'm looking forward to the next one!