Hackathons are Brutal …

On the up side it’s free and has some of the best food and swag you can get. Swag included free electronics, phone chargers and an animated mind-reading cat ears head band. That was my first day-and-nite real hackathon and it was a brutal experience. This was the 2014 ATT Wearables Hackathon in Las Vegas at the Palms Casino.

On my arrival I had no idea what to expect I asked around only to find that most people where already in teams. Some were already prepared with their own equipment including giant boxes of electronics, 3D printer, a stationary bike, a quadcopter, a fully assembled robot, and a violin, to name a few. I am a programmer with a hint of electronics training so I had some hope that I could get somewhere. We named our projects and got lots of free equipment such as arduinos, sensors, heart rate monitors and many more. Most of my day was spent figuring out how to program the Arduino which was a colossal waste of time. I should have gone through this before arriving. Then figuring out the various APIs that were mandatory to win prizes such as Gimbal, M2X and M2M. To my dismay having a MacBook was practically required for the Gimbal, I had a PC laptop. That night I was resigned and decided to pack it in around 8pm. I gave up. But as I drove home the bitter taste of failure lingered. I was determined to do something, anything. When I got home, I went to my desktop iMac and proceeded to make an iOS7 app that I could submit to the competition. I drank coffee and was up till 4:30am next morning. I slept a few hours and woke up at 9am. I successfully completed my app and was happy.

I made a nice presentation and speech and got there by 12 to present. There were over 100 teams. At first the judges asked questions to each team but as everyone noticed it was taking too long the judges questioning practically stopped and a 90 second speech was mandatory, else you where sequed and clapped out of existence. Teams of 1-10 who had spent hours, probably some sleeping there or working through the night had 90 seconds and they often fumbled and had to be cut short. It was sad because you can tell some were disappointed and worked very hard. Almost as if their work was for absolutely nothing. They were taken off the stage and hurried along.

My presentation of a patient proximity health care data idea I read straight off a piece of paper. I knew it was bad form but I didn’t want to miss any important points as so many others had because of the 90 seconds. Everything went smooth until I could not connect my app to the proximity sensors, so I fumbled. But I got everything I wanted to say into it. Some of the presentations included a pillow that will detect when you are lonely, a lighted accelerometer violin, a drunkeness detector, a pilot sleepiness detector, a wrist band that will send you cute cat pictures and a teeth grinding detector. Many teams chose to go the firefighter/police route because there was a public safety sub-prize involved.

The night of the final day of presentations was almost over, everyone became restless and was chatting away relentlessly. The teams who came up after me, maybe half the audience were listening. People of other competitions were having their finals and presenting it afterwards. There were many winners, many teams winning more than once. Prizes ranged from $25k, $10k and $5K with many more sub-prizes. I did not win anything, but I learned alot, and had an interesting time. I will though think twice before trying it again though, it was quite brutal. I’m going to get some sleep now …

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