Yahoo! Openhack EU (Bucharest)

A pair of history enthusiastsLast weekend, I was invited to attend the Yahoo! Openhack EU event that was held in Bucharest, Romania as part of a team of “History Enthusiasts” to try and help participants generate ideas using cultural sector data. This came about from the really successful History Hack Day that Matt Patterson organised earlier this year and due to this, Yahoo!’s Murray Rowan invited him to assemble a team to go to Romania and evangelise. Our team comprised myself, Jo Pugh from the National Archives and our leader Matt; we went armed with the datasets that were made available for the hackday and a list of apis from Mia Ridge (formerly of the Science Museum and now pursuing a PhD).

The Openhack event (hosted in the Crystal Palace Ballrooms – don’t leave the complex we were told, the wild dogs will get you!) started with a load of tech talks, most interesting for me was the YQL one (to see how things had progressed), Douglas Crockford (watched this on video later) on JSON and also Ted Drake‘s accessibility seminar. One thing I thought that was absent was the Geo element, something that is extremely strong at Yahoo! (api wise before you moan about maps) and an element that always features strongly at hack days in mashups or hacks. Our team then gave a series of short presentations to the Romanians who were interested in our data unfortunately not too many, but that seemed to be the norm for the enthusiasts. We felt that a lot of people had already come with ideas and were using the day as a collaborative catalyst to present their work, not that this is a bad thing, be prepared and your work will be more focused at these events. Between us we talked about the success of the hackday at the Guardian and Jo presented material from the National Archives and then we discussed ideas with various people throughout the day; for example:

  1. Accessing shipping data – one of the teams we spoke to wanted some quite specific data about routes. However, we found a static html site with a huge amount of detail and suggested scraping and then text extraction for entities mentioned and producing a mashup based on this – see submarines hack
  2. How to use Google Earth time slider to get some satellite imagery for certain points in time (the deforestation project was after this)
  3. Where you can access museum type information – history hack days list
  4. Which apis they could use – Mia Ridge’s wiki list

I tried to do a few things whilst there, some Twitter analysis with Gephi and R (laptop not playing ball with this) and building some YQL opentables for Alchemy’s text extraction apis and Open Library (I’ll upload these when tested properly). Matt looked at trying to either build a JSON api or a mobile based application for Anna Powell-Smith‘s excellent Domesday mapping project (django code base) and Jo played with his data for Papal bullae from the National Archives using Google’s fusion tables and also looking at patterns within the  syntax via IBM’s Manyeyes tool.

Ursus blackHacking then progressed for the next 24 hours, interspersed with meals and  some entertainment provided by the Algorythmics (see the embedded video below from Ted Drake) who danced a bubble sort in Romanian folk style, and 2 brief interludes to watch the Eurovision (Blue and the Romanian entry). We retired to the bar at the JW Marriot for a few Ursus beers and then back to the Ibis for the night before returning the next day to see what people had produced to wow their fellow hackers and a panel of judges. Unfortunately, I had to head back to the UK (to help run the ARCN CASPAR conference) from OTP when the hacks were being presented, so I didn’t get to see the finished products. The internet noise reveals some awesome work and a few that I liked the sound of are commented on below. I also archived off all the twitter chat using the #openhackeu hashtag if anyone would like these (currently over 1700 tweets). There was also some brilliant live blogging by a very nice chap called Alex Palcuie, which gives you a good idea of how the day progressed.

So, after reading through the hacks list, these are my favourites:

  1. Mood music
  2. The Yahoo! Farm – robotics and web technology meshed, awesome
  3. Face off (concept seems good)
  4. Pandemic alert – uses webgl (only chrome?)
  5. Where’s tweety

And these are the actual winners (there was also a proper ‘hack’, which wasn’t really in the vein of the competition as laid out on the first day, but shows skill!):

  • Best Product Enhancement – TheBatMail
  • Hack for Social Good – Map of Deforested Areas in Romania
  • Best Yahoo! Search BOSS Hack – Take a hike
  • Best Local Hack –  Tourist Guide
  • Hacker’s choice – Yahoo farm
  • Best Messenger Hack – Yahoo Social Programming
  • Best Mashup – YMotion
  • Best hacker in show – Alexandru Badiu, he built 3 hacks in 24 hours!

To conclude, Murray Rowan and Anil Patel‘s team produced a fantastic event which for once had a very high proportion of women (maybe 10-25% of an audience of over 300) in attendance – which will please many of the people I know via Twitter in the UK and beyond. We met some great characters (like Bogdan Iordache) and saw the second biggest building on the planet (it was the biggest on 9/11 the taxi drivers proudly claim) and met a journalist I never want to meet again….. According to the hackday write up, 1090 cans of Red Bull, 115 litres of Pepsi and 55 lbs of coffee were consumed (and a hell of a lot of food seeing some of the food mountains that went past!)

Here’s to the next one. Maybe a cultural institution can set a specific challenge to be cracked at this. And I leave you with Ted Drake‘s video:

Palestine Exploration Fund flickrstream

Over the last few days, I have been adding a selection of the Palestine Exploration Fund‘s extensive image collection to a Flickr profile. The aim of this, was to try and make more people aware of some of the gems that the Fund has within the collection in Hinde Mews. This small slice of the photographic collection contains some amazing images of places and landscapes around Palestine. If you like them, please do consider joining the Fund to help with our charitable activities.

Panoramic photograph of the Dome of the Rock
Panoramic photograph of the Dome of the Rock
Peristyle of Temple of Jupiter Heliopolitan, Baalbek
Peristyle of Temple of Jupiter Heliopolitan, Baalbek

You can see more of these amazing images on flickr.

St Lucia – yeaaah maan! No pressure, no problem

St Lucia's cricket ground
St Lucia's cricket ground

Just got back from the Island of St Lucia, what a brilliant place. We stayed at the Sandals Halcyon in the North of the Island. Everything they had to offer we tried: windsurfing, water skiing (crap at that!), scuba diving – 109 dives now, tennis, shuffleboard, eating, cocktails, patois etc. We also went to the semi-final of the world cup, even though they had lost my tickets. The ground is really beautiful, makes me want to perhaps start playing again.

Oh well, now back to the drag of work at the British Museum. A couple of weeks till we launch a revamped CCI and try out the mashed up features that I’ve built around Google and phpclasses. Could be interesting.
[gmap marker_lat=”14.0091445″ marker_lon=”-61.00861320000001″]

British Institute of Persian Studies

BIPS logoAfter a few months of on-off work, I’ve finally finished the British Institute of Persian studies website. It has taken a bit longer than I expected as we’ve had to get comments from various stake holders on the committee of the Institute. I’m actually quite pleased with it and I’m getting more pleased with textpattern as a web content management platform all the time. I’ve also started using a vitual server at oneandone which seems pretty good value for around £19 pcm.

The website has two domains, bips.org.uk and bips.ac.uk (we’re not totally sure about future directions for this.) Any feedback on this gratefully received. Now onto the ICOMON website which will be trilingual. Bit less time to do this one though! Maybe I’ll burn a candle as usual from both ends and the middle (I’m also working on some Iron Age data at work at present… but that is a secret….)

Returned from skiing

Stu and DanJust got back from 7 days of skiing in the Alpine resort of Serre Chevalier. I’ve now managed to come down red runs after 10 days of practice; they’re hard man! An interesting trip with loads of snow and some strange concoctions called Dr Pepper.

Stu Ervine took some great photos, and they can be seen on Flickr.

Libya and bike crashes

DSC00454I’ve not updated for a while, but I’ve just returned from Libya after a whirlwind 5 day visit via Voyages Jules Verne. This encompassed trips to Tripoli, Sabratha and Leptis Magna. The latter 2 magnificent examples of Roman town planning. However Leptis is by far and away the more impressive and reminded me of my youth and summer time in Caesarea, Israel. We stayed at Hotel Yousser in Tripoli and I sure did miss my Gin and Tonic seeing as it is a dry country; however their non alcoholic beer isn’t that bad! However, I almost didn’t make it there due to a high speed crash on my mountain bike. All I can say is the pavement is bloody hard when you hit face first….