Science Hack Day

It has been said many times before and deserves to be said again – Science Hack Day, Belgaum was the best technical event I have attended. A hack day is supposed to bring hackers, scientists together to create amazing things. It all happened and more. As participants and mentors, we returned inspired with new friends and more ideas.

I heard about the event from Anwesha, as she was planning the September PyLadies meetup in August. She, along with Kushal and Py, was going to the event with Hong, who had flown into India especially for it, as an organiser from FOSSASIA. I had discussed an idea with Sid, a project that I could take up for one of the PyLadiesPune hack days. So I planned to hack on it, if I managed to go. It became a family affair after Sid returned and showed interest in taking a road trip 🙂

We almost cancelled and then we didn’t. What a mistake it would have been had we cancelled. The drive was great, Ira was good – we were happy. We took a detour at Kolhapur because we had to pick some stuff for the event. We left home after lunch so by the time we reached Belgaum it was late evening. Warned by Kushal about the maps, we waited for Praveen to lead us to the location. All 3 of us fell in love with the resort instantly, it was starting to feel like a vacation.

Day 1 started with an informal inauguration ceremony where all mentors introduced themselves and their ideas. I described my idea too – “Smart”ifying Cookie which is based on Grant Gibson’s Chatter Smartphone. Cookie is my two-year old’s battery operated toy. On click of the soft buttons on its palms and feet, the toy sings different rhymes. My idea was to replace the existing controller with a raspberry pi (because of my then limited knowledge of smaller development boards and of course availability) and make the toy do smarter things -1. depending on the  time of the day tell my kid her task – something like – “it is 2 pm, time for you to sleep” , 2. play her favorite rhymes from the internet 3. read my twitter notification and ring an alarm to indicate something at home.

So the tables were set and I was all geared up to set shop next to Kushal’s so I could learn while I did my own thing. Hong came by and suggested it was a better idea to sit on different tables so that people who wanted to contribute to either ideas would be able to. I wasn’t really expecting anyone other than Ira to have any interest in what I was up to, not even Sid and Ira only because her toy was at stake. So as we unpacked, I realized I had forgotten the password to the pi and did not have a microsd adapter (foolishly, left it on the study table at home). Hitesh guided Sid to the electronic store and they got the stuff. While I was awaiting their return, a bunch of girls approached me at my table as they were interested in my idea and wanted to know if I could help them for their own project(robotic arm I think it was). Since I wasn’t ready, I redirected them towards Kushal as they were also very keen on learning Python. Rupa came up to me and expressed interest but had to redirect her to Kushal too. A shy, young boy -Shreyas- approached my table and asked me what my project was. After I explained, he told me about his projects (http://xerfia.com/).

I went around exploring the venue with Ira. We went to the main hall where curious students were working on building solar lanterns. There was a glade in the resort where another set of students were making science toys. The kids were curious, sharp, well-behaved and wonderful. We could only wait around till Ira’s attention span allowed us, which is 5 minutes. Ira spent most of time looking and asking for Ovi didi 🙂 when not watching the peacock and peahen. We spoke to Poornima from the wonderful mapbox team, who were working on making an organic map of the resort.

Sid and Hitesh got the microsd and things started rolling for me. Jithin lent his monitor and was non-intrusively helping out in whatever way he could. Sid reset the password for me. To my surprise, Shreyas, was still lurking around and he joined me as I sat down to make Cookie smarter. I had requested Pooja to help me out as I had no experience soldering, but she got employed at the workshop while I was twiddling thumbs waiting for the microsd adapter. Praveen was at our table too, trying to win Ira over and failing. All of us had our bit of fame when the reporter from Tarun Bharat was impressed with the idea 🙂

Sid and Ira left for a nap and we – me, Shreyas and Praveen- were at the table and we connected the wires to the pi’s GPIO pins and built the code. So we got stuck at a point where we wanted one click to execute the block of code just once, however it was going on in an infinite loop. We broke our head over it, over-analyzing the entire problem. Praveen debugged the code to death and back. Many others came over to understand the problem and help. Sid returned from his sleep and added a line time.sleep(1) and it got the expected result. All that was missing was, clearing the cache of the excess click inputs. We then broke down the tasks-to-do among ourselves and the work-day ended.

The long day turned night ended with lightning sessions. Arun got his broken microscope an LED. A memorable demo by Prof. Prabhu on biomass burner completely blew everyone away. Prof. Praveen‘s laser show made everyone wish for a professor like him.

The staff at the resort was very courteous and the food was great too. Dinner went well, kids had a great time.

Next morning we set about our tasks. It was heartening to see Shreyas still interested. We got working and managed to get Cookie to guffaw on a button click. Pooja and Shreyas worked on the soldering the circuit.

We were asked to assemble at 2PM at the main hall for a demo of our work. Many kids came even while we were working and found it amusing, most returned with a glint in their eyes at the possibilities.

The mentors, volunteers, participants were all such amazing, helpful people. It felt like a huge group of friends are working together 🙂

At 2 we packed everything up and went to the main hall. Demo was arranged and the end result of the 2 days were open for the assembled crowd to see. Day 2 saw many parents accompany their children, so there was more crowd but everything was very well managed. The prize distribution and thanksgiving was the only formal bit in all of the 2 days 🙂

The awards were given out to well-deserving teams.

  • Most Socially Useful Hack- Sun Tracking
  • Best Education Hack-  Chrome Extension to convert Text to Speech
  • Best Science Hack- Organic Map
  • Audience Favorite Hack-  Motion Detector
I must mention, Cookie was cheered quite a bit by the children 🙂

At night, Rahul Khanolkar gave us a peek into his life as a researcher in bat conservation. He demoed the device they use to detect bat motion and told us some mind-boggling facts about bats. That entire episode will always be firmly etched in my memory. Wonderful experience.

I was so glad Ira could be a part of this event and hopefully we all will be in the future as well. A million thanks to the organizers and volunteers. I returned refreshed and focused. A germ of an idea (in the form of reserved-bit) is taking  shape in my mind 🙂

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nishapoyarekar

When not tripping over my daughter's LEGO blocks, I write code. Out of the corporate rat race at the moment, looking forward to indulging my distractions.

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