Sunday, January 22, 2017

FriendCanoe & UofTHacksIV

Weekly Update 2017-04: This weekend, I attended my third hackathon. It took place at the University of Toronto, and was as insane and unique an experience as the other two that I have attended. This weekly update is a special edition all about what I did and saw this weekend.

Music: Furi Soundtrack
First of all, I was invited to the hackathon by my lovely friend Sasha. He has the developer skills more than covered, but he requested my design knowledge to round out our team of two. We have similar tastes in the right music for productivity (especially in coding), and listened a lot to the soundtrack for the game Furi (found on Steam). It doesn't have any (decipherable) lyrics, so it was perfect for getting stuff done. I don't know much about the game but if it's half as good as the soundtrack, it must be amazing.

Some of the songs sounda little Justice-inspired, very new-wave disco and synthy. Perfect for coding.

Accomplishment: FriendCanoe
What is FriendCanoe, you may ask? Well, it's our finished product for the hackathon! We spent the weekend creating an iOS app in React Native that would allow its users to keep track of friends whom they don't have a chance to see often.

Simply add a friend's name as well as the date and place you last hung out, then let the app calculate and prioritize which friends you should see next to ensure your friendships are kept healthy. The closer a friend is to the top of the screen (and the darker their row), the more pertinent it is that you should see them soon. Cobwebs indicate that it's been a long time...which means you may need to think about whether or not you can really call them a 'friend'.

You can also add your close friends if you wish, who will most likely remain closer to the bottom of the list (meaning you've seen them recently and don't need to tend to the friendship). The more activities you log with them, the more filled-out their feed of activities becomes. If you really like that feature, this can become a sort of scrapbook for your friendship together.

React Native was a completely new language for me to learn, which was both extremely challenging and extremely fun. It uses CSS, which I know how to write, but the syntax is all slightly different and made for a maddening process of replacing semicolons with commas and the like. Also, there are multiple different methods to position elements in CSS but React Native only uses a certain method called flexbox, which is fairly new to CSS. It gave me the push to really understand and learn it, and I can see why it's so useful. Mainly, flexbox is the easiest way to make a webpage responsive, so I'm sure I'll be utilizing that for some future projects.

And to top it all off, Sasha completed his goal of actually finishing a hackathon for the first time! This was his third hackathon as well (though it was our first one together), so I suppose the third time's the charm.

You can view the app if you download the Exponent App on an iPhone and then tap this link. It's a lot of work, I know, so maybe wait until it's done and then you can have it for real! :)

Some bonus images:

Preliminary whiteboard sketches. It was at this point that we found out I cannot draw a canoe.

1st day selfie!

2nd day selfies...marginally more tired.

Albeit somewhat slowly, we will both continue to work with the app. There are definitely some bugs happening in the codebase, especially after the code that was merged in the wee hours of this morning. We also didn't get to implement all of the designs I had originally mocked because we had so much trouble with flexbox.

I'd also like to move away from such extremely vibrant colours and perhaps redesign the logo and placeholder faces a little once we do a little more thinking about the brand of the app.

Random Thought: QuidditchVR by NightBlade
I was very impressed with one project by Yahya Ismail that I got to demo today. All by himself, Yahya spent his hackathon creating a fully functional Quidditch game with the HTC Vive. It was amazing to move around with the headset on, chasing and whacking at the ball to try to score points (without crashing into the people in the stands).

Imagine one joystick is the broom handle and the other is the beater stick to whack the ball with.

I could only use it for a few minutes before I made myself a little dizzy and had to take it off. Not Yahya's fault, though! Ever since my first foray into VR with the roller coaster simulator on an Oculus Rift a few years ago, I know that I am particularly sensitive to motion sickness. It'll just take a little more time and research before someone figures out the correct recipe to provide a non-dizzying experience for all kinds of people, but it's definitely getting closer!

Images of QuidditchVR belong to Yahya Ismail.

Inspiration: AngelGuards by HypeTrain
This project, by a team made up of Jason Lee, Sangeet Parashar, Edwin Finch and the mysterious "Annie", really seemed like the embodiment of how I feel a hackathon should be. The team made good use of technologies for an improved experience that many people face all over the world.

As I understand it, the product works like this. Imagine you're an event promoter or a bar owner. You're planning an event, and want to make sure the party is a safe space for everyone. You select a top-notch security team, but there's no way they can know about everything going on at a packed event, right?

So, each security person has the phone hooked up to the AngelGuards system. They become the 'angels'. At the same time, you include a special private form with your invitations. Attendees have the option to describe how they will be dressed and how they can be identified (at their own discretion).

The attendees then have access throughout the night to a button inside the app on their phone that looks like this:

If someone presses this button twice, the security 'angels' receive this type of notification to their phone's lock screen. They can find the individual quickly and easily, and have the ability to resolve the situation without too much fuss.

Unfortunately, it's a reality that people sometimes find themselves in vulnerable situations when they go out and try to have a nice time. This app gives those people a renewed ability to be able to let off some steam and not have to worry as much about the people around them or their own personal safety. Great job, HypeTrain!

Images of AngelGuards belong to the HypeTrain team.

Unrelated bonus: Here's my haul of free stuff from the hackathon.

  • 2 red fleece Google travel blankets with handles and Velcro fastenings
  • 2 pairs of striped RBC socks
  • 2 android keychains
  • 2 Google pens
  • 1 RBC slinky
  • 1 Deloitte sticker "make cool shit"
  • 1 android sticker
  • 1 gmail sticker

    Not pictured:
  • official hackathon t-shirt, name badge and drawstring bag (to keep all the swag in of course)
  • bottles of Soylent
  • a ton of food & snacks
  • all the Red Bull and Monster energy drinks to make your heart stop
  • huge bags under my eyes from running on three hours of sleep this entire weekend
The hackathon was awesome, but I have to say I'm possibly more excited that it's finally almost a regular bedtime hour so I can go to sleep. Yay!

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