The first time I heard of a hackathon, I imagined a bunch of nerds breaking through cyber security systems. In fact, this is not the kind of “hack” that people are referring to when they talk about hackathons. Instead, what happens is that a bunch of nerds spend 24 hours making cool projects, sleep optional.
This is why I love having a blog. I can look back and see where I was. The week before HackMIT, I wrote on the blog that I was very anxious about participating in my first hackathon and being in an intimidating environment with so many experienced people. Now having gone and come back, I can confirm that there were many things I didn’t know about, but once again, I didn’t need to be such a worry wart. Although there were quite a few things we weren’t sure about, like how to connect to wifi (more on that later), there was one thing we were sure about: we definitely had a lot of fun.
My team was Kevin, Kyu, and Saleh. Kevin and I are buds from high school, Kyu and I are friends from last year, and Saleh I met for the first time on our flight to Boston. Yay for new friends!
Kevin didn’t fly with us because he was at a Young the Giant concert, which he was so psyched for because they’re one of his favourite bands, but the rest of us flew over together. Before the plane took off, Kyu and I were trying to help Saleh find a place to stay because he hadn’t yet figured it out -_-” But Saleh sent an email to the event coordinator asking for last minute suggestions, and they were so accommodating and luckily found him a host.
Once we arrived in Boston, we caught the Silver Line and Red Line. While we were on the Silver Line, we were just chatting and mentioned a local brewery when a stranger jumped in and asked us if we were Tri-Co students. It turned out that he was an alum from Swarthmore class of 2012, and he did a cappella too (I knew his group because my a cappella group is Tri-Co!). He also hopped on the Red Line with us. Well, actually we more like we hopped on with him because he showed us the way.
When our stop came up, Saleh asked if we could connect with him on Facebook, to which he said that the only social media he had was LinkedIn, so Kyu and Saleh whipped out the LinkedIn apps on their phones and I was just like woah. Seniors, man. On the walk from the Red Line to MIT, I downloaded the LinkedIn app. I am now adult.
We made it! I probably should have gone to sleep as soon as I arrived that night, but… how could I when my HackMIT host was Courtney, one of my best friends from high school who I hadn’t seen for more than two years?! Naturally, we stayed up talking until 3AM. I was drifting in and out of consciousness during the last half hour of our conversation, but when I told Courtney about it the next morning, she said she didn’t even notice.
Much to Courtney’s chagrin, my team decided to meet at 8AM the next morning, so we woke up at 7AM and she dutifully walked me over, which is a big deal for Courtney, because she hardly ever wakes up in the AM (perhaps I’m exaggerating just a little, but only just a little hehe). That is true friendship.
Kevin! Super loving the light and colours. No idea how he looks so happy and energised after having just gotten off the train from his Young the Giant concert. Props.
Kyu! The pros of sitting close to me include me zooming up to your face.
Saleh! Whippin’ off those glasses. Please note the Google Cardboard at the bottom left corner. We like to call it the Instant Celibacy Machine.
We didn’t quite realise how cold it’d be in Boston. After a delicious breakfast of muffins and bagels, and a warm cup of hazelnut coffee to warm my hands on, we meandered about searching for sunlight when we stumbled across this vent breathing out warm air. So of course, we penguin-huddled around it. Then Kevin casually and shamelessly asked an innocent hacker passing by to take a picture for us. We had to ask him to point the camera a little lower to include the vent specifically. Amateur.
At 10AM, HackMIT kicked off with a welcoming ceremony, and just past 11AM, the hackathon began. While Kevin lined up to pick up hardware to borrow, the rest of us made our rounds through the sponsor booths to network and, more importantly, pick up free swag 😉 despite the fact that we already got a bag of swag at check-in, which included a hackathon tee, hackathon laptop sticker, long socks, Google Cardboard, aviators, and lots more. Saleh and I headed straight to the pyjama pants from DE Shaw & Co, because pyjama pants are important. Plus, they were flannel, which is an autumnal necessity. I also picked up an adhesive phone pocket from DisneyTech and a blanket pillow from Microsoft.
As we were walking around, we ran into some Tri-Co friends! We had no idea that they’d be here. Other than my team, we had one more from Bryn Mawr and two more from Swarthmore.
It’s always cool to return to events like these and run into familiar faces. Since this was my first hackathon, that didn’t exactly happen for me, but I know what it’s like from participating in choir festivals and swim meets in high school. Maybe I’ll find myself running into familiar faces at hackathons in the future!
Now time to get down to business. Some teams came to the hackathon with project ideas already. We were not one of those teams. I mean, I only finally met all my team members the day before, so give us a break!
Before leaving for HackMIT, I did a quick online search to see what kind of stuff people have made at hackathons, and I stumbled upon the Stupid Shit No One Needs & Terrible Ideas Hackathon. It’s beautiful. My two favourite projects were NonAd Block (a chrome extension by Miklos Pataky and Carl Jamilkowski that blocks all web content that isn’t an ad) and Stupid Font (a hand tracing of TEFF Lexicon, the most expensive font in the world, by Laura Juo-Hsin Chen).
But we came up with some brilliant ideas too:
- Hack Kevin – Take an avatar of your friend and literally hack at it. But only in the most kawaii way ofc; we’re not barbarians.
- Pac-a-Man Go! – Pacman but irl, using something like Google Maps. Like Pokemon Go! but Pacman. And if we have time, also make it so you also need to walk around with alligator arms like a chomping Pacman mouth, which can be detected by a Pebble Watch.
- Moral Trade – Match two people who are donating to opposing causes, find a common cause they both believe in, and donate the money to that.
We decided that if we didn’t settle on a project idea by a certain time, we’d randomly choose one and just go with it. Did we end up having to resort to this strategy? Yes.
The four of us settled down at table I1 and…
…couldn’t connect to the wifi.
So what did we do after 2hrs+ of failed attempts?
Screw diamonds; I’ve always wanted to be proposed to with a Microsoft Band! So much more practical tbh.
This is the new virtual reality.
Clearly, not very much was getting done without access to wifi. Tech runs the world and we computer scientists are powerful, but cut us off from our wifi and we’ll be rendered useless. So we decided to take a brief break and walk over to the Charles River, and then hunker down at a coffee shop with wifi to keep hacking.
A peaceful stroll. We may have escaped the hackathon, but we’ll never escape the shenanigans.
We found ourselves crossing the Massachusetts Avenue Bridge and had fun counting our progress in smoots. Then this kid drove up in a bright yellow lambo, super cas. Then we ventured a little further and saw a super ripped old guy doing some very peaceful yoga stretches on the Charles River Boardwalk. Along the way we took shots of olive oil from this booth that was giving out free samples. And before we knew it, we found ourselves all the way at Newbury Street. Our hope was to locate Chatime, get some bubble tea, and then get back to hacking, but when we arrived at the supposed location, we saw that the store had moved out. With broken hearts, we trudged over to the nearest coffee shop we could find, which was Capital One Cafe.
Around dinner time, Saleh needed to head back for an appointment, but Kevin, Kyu, and I Ubered to Chinatown, and Courtney came over to meet up with us for pho at Pho Pasteur. Can you guess what we had for dessert? (Bubble tea from Kungfu Tea ♡)
That evening, Courtney and I repeated our ritual of chatting until 3AM, and then we found ourselves at the second and final day of the hackathon.
Hacking ended at 11AM and the whole HackMIT event ended at 3PM, but our train back wasn’t until 9:30PM, which meant we had a lot of time left in Boston.
If I’m in a new place with time to kill, take a wild guess about how I’ll spend it 😛
The five of us (my team & Courtney because Courtney is the best) headed over to Harvard Square and I dragged them to Tealuxe, a lil coffee and tea house that I found on Yelp. A full post on the blog eventually! (because who are we kidding, it’s not gonna be soon hah…)
For lunch, I had my second Shake Shack experience in my life (the first of which which was only a few weeks ago). Once again, I ordered the ‘Shroom Burger. Nobody else would order it because it doesn’t have any meat, but I couldn’t resist that fried portobello mushroom stuffed and oozing with beautiful cheese. Courtney and I also shared a peanut butter shake; can’t leave Shake Shack without a shake!
And in true Courtney fashion, we also stopped by Pinkberry before leaving Harvard Square. She ordered something and used my Pinkcard to help me rack up rewards, and we discovered that I hadn’t redeemed my birthday reward yet, so we used it to get free froyo! Darn, shoulda ordered the largest size.
Sidenote: I kept accidentally calling Harvard “Haverford” 😛
Unfortunately this weekend could not last forever, and too soon we had to leave MIT, hop onto the Red Line, and take the Amtrak back to Philly. But the adventure didn’t stop there. It was quite a wild night actually:
On the Amtrak, we had hoped to each get our own row, but the train turned out to be quite crowded, so we had to sit next to each other ?. Haha jkjk Kyu was very kind and helped me with my lab, so really he should be the one that’s like ?. After cramming in some homework, we tried our best to sleep. When our Amtrak stopped at NYC at 3AM, Kevin’s sixth sense went off, and he pulled us out of the train and out of the Penn Station to grab some lamb over rice from a food truck. Kevin had the time of his life practicing his Arabic, and we even got to go into the food truck and take selfies together! We got a little too excited though and accidentally got too much hot sauce on our lamb over rice, so I ended up burning my face off. We got back to the Amtrak in time. In more than enough time actually. This was the weekend pipe bombs were found near the train station in Elizabeth, New Jersey, so it turned out that all trains at Penn Station were indefinitely suspended until further notice. There wasn’t much we could do, so we just waited in the train and held tight. Kevin booked us Greyhound bus tickets in case the train couldn’t make it to Philly. Around 6AM they told us that the trains were finally running and that all the passengers from the other trains would be getting on the one we were on. Mind you, according to our original itinerary, we were supposed to have had arrived in Philly just before 5AM. Anyways, all the passengers transferred over to our train and we were about to leave, but then there was a mechanical difficulty, so we were delayed for another 30 minutes. But finally we set off. Kevin and I decided whether or not we wanted to attend our first class, which was our 9AM Intro to Syntax class. He said he would, which meant I had no choice but to go too, but then he changed his mind, but by then I had gotten used to the idea of going to class, so changing my mind would have felt like ditching, so we decided to go to class and be a little late if we had to. We finally arrived at campus at 9AM and ran through the pouring rain and made it to class at 9:04 and class started at 9:05 (Haverford time = 5 minutes late). We made it!
Soylent is our lifeline…
If you were at a hackathon, what project would you like to make come to life?