Dawn on a Rainy Day – Hackathon 09

There’s something quite magical of watching dawn from your apartment, rain streaking the windows. And its an ideal time to reflect why you’re up at this hour, and what you’ve been doing over the last 48 hours.

In my case, I’ve been hacking at Prycr.com all through Friday and Saturday. The website is blank, since its not a web service (yet) and it was for Hackathon 09, so no time was wasted on nice frivolities like “websites” and “marketing”. All the focus was on our SMS application, that does price lookups for UPC codes texted to it.

The scenario is as follows: You’re standing in Fry’s, looking at some piece of tech gadgetry that you just have to have. But are you going to be angry that you bought it here if there’s a sweet deal online? Or even better, what if Best Buy across the street had it for 20% off and you didnt know? Send off a text message with the UPC product code to our service, and you’ll receive a reply looking something like this:

"WD 250gb My Passport Hard Drive. (4.5/5) $52 at CompUPlus.com, average price of $69. Locally at Best Buy for $75"

I built this with an impromptu team of three other Berkeley students – Timothy Liu, Dounan Shi and Irving Lin – and decided to do this text message based service similar to DialPrice.com (which, BTW, is also a very cool service, but I find that whenever I use it I’m extremely frustrated that I have to make a call and stand there, waiting for the voice prompts to read me info on my product.) It was a really fun experience, and although we didn’t win anything we’re planning to build this out into a serious web service that people can use.

For future hackers, if you’re doing a mobile app, have it ready to demo on the judges’ phones. Let them whip out their cell and use it. We didn’t do this and we realized after showing it to people later that day that the coolness factor is just about zero until someone can do it themselves. And good luck!

Another cool thing I saw at Hackathon was Mugasha.com – online electronic music sets from premier DJs. I’m jamming out to it right now! They release DJ sets (those hour-long musical journeys that DJs create by mixing many different tracks) in a track-by-track form in their music player. Finally, you can get both the awesomeness of these DJ sets and the convenience of knowing which song it being played, and jump to the songs you particularly like.

Finally, it was interesting to see a different interpretation of the “Hack day” concept from the Yahoo hack days I’ve been involved in. Yahoo hack days are known for their 90 seconds presentation, and I wish they did that as well. We had 4 minute presentations, and it was a lot harder to follow the main points of people! 90 seconds is an excellent time limit to explain hacks done in 24 hours. Schwag, Pizza and Beer was also notoriously missing… is the recession taking its toll? Hmm, no, because they had Sushi (which disappeared in a matter of minutes) and burritos in the afternoon. Possibly the lack of alcohol explains the productivity! The turnout was amazing – 25 teams in total! – which they managed to do by offering $200 to the student group that turns out the most entries. So they had CSUA, IEEE and UPE all working for them, which was utter genius.

Anyway, the sun is rising and I’m off to go pick up my new Samsung 23″ HD monitor. My aim for desk domination through sheer pixelcount is nearing completion since I’m about to put down the third monitor on my desk. Once I upgrade to 4 by duplicating the current purchase (yea, im waiting for the end-of-the-month paycheck) I’ll finally have that 3840 by 2300 pixels of screen space on my desktop. 30″ monitors be damned!

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