I was a bit aprehensive about getting involved with anything called hackathon. For me and for a lot of others I suspect the word has connotations of electronically sneaking into an organizations computer system and stealing data. However, ‘hack‘ means something just done well as a verb and done playfully as a noun, at least according to that great resource of modern English usage the Urban Dictionary. So I went along on this past Saturday wondering if any of the people from the Catalyst night would be there and what were we going to get up to for the day. Would we do something well and playful?
I ran into someone at the Cheung Sha Wan MTR station and after loading up on tuna buns, soy milk and coffee heading out for The Good Lab. Arriving around 1pm and there were a few people in a large, bright and varied work space with kitchen, work-tables, work-benches, chairs of various shapes and sizes. It quickly filled up with about 40 people. I was involved in two projects. I found my fellow team-member, we got into the wifi and had a few conversations with people wandering around looking for possible projects. We then set to work. I was working on reviewing open data public sector information websites around the world, Data.One Analysis Project. My team-member was working on a form for crowd-sourcing potential datasets around the HK government websites, Opening Data. Most of the time people were heads-down working with some small group meetings. It was possible to eves-drop on some conversations. This was a good way of knowing what skills people had and maybe asking them a question. Around 6:30pm the group reported on progress and asked for help if required. Pizza was delivered and we ate and chatted. We kept working until 11pm.
photo credit: Yolanda Jinxin Ma
Up around 8am on Sunday and made my way back to Cheung Sha Wan by 10am. Most of the same people were there plus some more. Yesterday’s team-member was joined by 2 others. We figured out what we needed to do and worked until lunchtime. There was a feeling of anxiety in the crowd. Downstairs for a good Chinese lunch and we talked about what was wrong with Hong Kong with a recent arriver from Spain. Back to work until a bit after 6pm and we started giving presentations on the results. There were some truly amazing results and knowledge sharing on how it was done. People were very interested in anything dealing with maps and how to use the not so friendly mapping CSV files available from the Data.One site. The list of projects is here. Hopefully, they will be updated in the coming weeks. Here are three that I believe deserve a special mention (but they were all really good):
Legco Meeting Log Parser ~ extract the Hong Kong Legislative Council meeting transcript and voting record from PDF and make it available. It begs the question why this isn’t made available in document format with audio and video transcripts.
Reporting Tool for Request for Access to Information ~ a centralized form with sharable tracking of requests for information to the appropriate HK government bureau or department. Hopefully this will motivate our government to have true Freedom of Information legislation in the coming years.
Hong Kong food security and mainland’s two standard on food quality ~ a way of putting on a map where food is coming from out of China into Hong Kong. Food security and safety is a huge issue in China and Hong Kong. The HK government should be sharing as much information as possible with where our food comes from and what are the past problems.
A member of the OGCIO PSI team and Charles Mok, IT Sector Legislative Councillor came over around 6pm. We had some Raspberry Pi prizes donated by Pindar Wong. The prize was chosen by popular acclamation choosing Legco Meeting Log Parser and Charles Mok gave out the prize. An interesting RTHK video of an interview with Pindar and Charles is here.
Did we do something well and was it playful? The work-products from our projects were excellent. The energy level was high. People were working really well and collaboratively and the atmosphere was a lot more playful then I’ve experienced in the dreaded corporate cubicle world a la Dilbert. So now I know what a hackathon is about.