Torturous, Fun, or just a side effect of stockholm syndrome? A Hackathon

Jake Dean
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July 29, 2017
Yuma and I rock up to the pre pitch event for the hackathon. I don’t know what to expect. I’ve seen a couple of startup pitching kind of things before, people pitching apps, ideas and trying to get other people on their side, but never intended to participate. I stick to the corner while Yuma exudes much more confidence. The host of the night sets the rules for pitching, and invites anyone to get up. A few teams pitch ideas and themselves. There are some really cool ones, but I see Yuma is picking up his harness for Wilson. Fuck. He wants to go up and pitch. Fuck. I don’t want to go. Fuck. I want to go back into my lab cave. Fuck. Too late.

We stroll up the side, I do the usual and lead Wilson a little bit. Yuma bumps into a few people as we continue. Here we go, attention is already being drawn to us. I don’t think many people have seen a blind person at one of these events before. We finally walk into the middle of the stage. We’ve talked about this idea many times before during our Servo days, but there’s no way in hell I’m saying anything, so I tell Yuma he’s good to go. “Hey all, I’m Yuma, not some sci-fi dude from the matrix”, everyone laughs.

Yuma then goes to pitch the problem and the idea, being that blind people don’t have accessibility to maps, sciences or anything cool. The idea was to integrate a map or something there-of into something as simple as a Leap Motion camera, which already has a nice set of libraries, so we’re piggybacking a lot of the hard work.

We do the rest of the pleasantries, and head back to Yuma’s place. Less than 48 hours left, time is ticking.

We spend the first night working out how we’re going to tackle the problem, I wrote some libraries in C++ to integrate into a C wrapper for swift, while Yuma started on the parsing task of taking a simple vector graphic file, and converting them into 3D objects with collision detectors and finally the GUI (a blind dude doing a GUI? I know. But he knows what he’s doing). Finishing all the libraries and Yuma having a GUI working at 3am the following morning, we go to combine. Damn. Swift needs drag and drop to get this to work. So I drag things where Yuma tells me to, I have the CPP working on ubuntu, hopefully this will be smooth. Nope. Compile errors. Many of them. What’s Happening! We spend the next 2 hours trying to figure out what was happening. Yuma heads to nap on the couch that’s next to the dining table, There’s a predator mask on the lounge table (Why does Yuma have so many predator masks? he might be called Morpheus by Dragon Slayer, someone we know, but he sure has the drads of those space hunters).  I spend another half an hour on it. I can’t think of anything that could even be wrong, I’ve tried every suggestion that I could find. Walking to the servo to get coffee, my thoughts are in a very focussed state. Why isn’t this working, Why isn’t this working muttering to myself. Ben, the local servo dude for that night points that I might have some linking errors, compiling CPP programs into swift (some weird AF servo right?). After getting back to Yuma’s I try to fix the problem. Yes! It works! Bed time.

Day two we spend our time creating an example to run, I create some quick SVG files we can use to test, then create some 3D files that we can print to have as a mount, while Yuma links all the SVG files to the programmer. Early Sunday morning we test the example. Except it doesn’t work. We can track the finger, but the SVG files are doing something funky. Yuma keeps recompiling and debugging a visual task non visually, printing out the coordinates of the objects and asking me if they are where he predicts them to be. After a good number of trials, the objects are right under where his finger is located, where they are meant to be. Hurray.

Words can’t explain the full experience. It’s a cross between a dive into a cold pool (in that you suddenly only think about the present), and a game of any sport where flow completely takes over and pushes you, but it’s your brain doing all the workout.

And what a brain twister. Combine time, resource and energy restrictions, and it becomes clear why Hugh Jackman was stressing out while a gun was pointed on his temple, and he had to hack into a complex system within 9 minutes while a bombshell was giving him a blowjob in the movie "Swordfish". But the experience taught us a few things:

  • Hackathons will make you Hustle, every second counts.
  • Debugging visual things as a non visual person is incredibly difficult right now, this will change in the future.
  • Make sure you sleep. We solved some issues at one stage just by having a power nap.
  • You'll learn a lot, but you might end up having a day off after all of the hustle.
  • Hacking a system in 9 minutes is nothing, Hugh Jackman.

We've got a link to what we created here