Christian Heilmann

Posts Tagged ‘openhacklondon’

Open Hack London 2009 – my presentation and quick review

Monday, May 11th, 2009

This weekend was Open Hack London and I spent the whole weekend in between presenting, being interviewed by Le Monde, Internet Magazin, Create or Die, O’Reilly and Reuters TV and helping hackers to get around the barriers they faced in reaching their goal of building a great hack in 24 hours.

My talk

I was very lucky to be able to present YQL as my topic for the tech talks as it is a no-brainer to make hackers that have 24 hours to understand the value of using YQL for their API data access. After all a simple “select * from {source} where {condition}” gets you very quickly to where you want to go instead of having to read API docs, get access tokens and then filter programatically.

I had prepared several YQL driven demos to explain the power of the API, with most probably the simply flickr photos by location or search API and the simple kitten display example in JavaScript being the most useful.

The slides were available on memory sticks for all attendees, and now are also on slideshare:

There’s also a quick 40 second introductory video available:

Seriously though, the talk was filmed and we will put it up on YDN as soon as the 2.6GB of high definition footage are converted and edited.

All in all I was very satisfied how the Open Hack turned out. I love that English hackers seem not to be too fussed about trying to impress but really take hack days as an opportunity to build what they always wanted to build and not have to ask anybody for permission. The only thing you heard were technical questions and I was very surprised to see that instead of people building small, individual hacks to impress their peers people almost immediately started forming groups, distributed tasks and went for it come rain or lightning strikes.

The list of submitted hacks shows some of this. Personally I was very impressed with the range of hacks. There was a lot of breaking out of boundaries of the desktop PC/web world, people hacked hardware, mobile interfaces and many an iPhone was in use.

I can’t comment on all, but here are some of my impressions:


  • Best government hack – They work for EU (Paul Battley and Julian Burgess) was a great and simple idea that makes a massive difference to the web resource it was built on. That the EU commission didn’t think of adding a translation interface is almost criminal neglect.
  • BBC backstage – Boss of Myspace (Kurt J, Yves Raimond and Benjamin Heitmann) makes Myspace a more interesting resource for me in terms of music. I am sure there are lots of awesome bands on it, but I am very annoyed with music starting automatically and me having to wait for a long time for a page to finish loading and rendering. The dbtune add-on is very interesting and I hope they take that idea further.
  • Hardware award – open security (Alistair MacDonald, Nigel Crawley and Mr Duck) I have no clue about Mr. Duck, but Alistair (except for blowing the main fuse of the room soldering) and Nigel have done an awesome job with this. In essence, it is an Arduino based RSA key. I loved it!
  • Best Mozilla hack – Intellisearch (Chris Brett,Laurence Hole and Matthew Ross) The winners of Dundee University hack day this year have done it again. By refining this hack which allows users to search the web without using a keyboard or have refined motor control. The really impressive part of this hack is also that the team reverse engineered the interface as it was not available as a Canvas control. Great accessibility mixed with using bleeding edge technology.
  • Best local hack – London Undersound (Dan W). I loved this one but I cannot find a link to it! What it did was to read out your Oyster card information and mashed it up with Last FM. It also showed you a graph of how many tube stations of the total amount you visited already turning using the tube into a game
  • Best FireEagle – Guestpass (Dale Lane) (presentation) Dale had a pretty cool idea of allowing short term access to FireEagle by providing a token system that allows you to give friends access to your FE information. This lowers the barrier to this great system and keeps simple one-off users from having to understand all the security measures in FE.
  • Guarnidad hack – Billtweets (Rob McKinnon) Public and private information fighter Rob McKinnon did a great job of scraping the government sites with bill information and giving us a way to track the changes and information about them on Twitter.
  • Most Awesome Hack – Fabulous Human Powered Browser (Adam Cohen-Rose, Dan Fitzgerald, Matthew Smith, Joyce Stack, Neomal Jinappriya and Sankatha Bamunuge). Not much to say about this one, except that it was awesome. I loved the interface idea of rolling on a scooter through the room to scroll a web site.
  • Hacker’s choice and Best in Show – OpenCycle (Premasagar Rose and Tom Leitch). Premasgar did it again – using Pipes and YQL this hack scrapes the mailing list archives of FreeCycle and turns it into a web interface. In a second phase they are planning to write a GreaseMonkey script that overlays free products over ebay results – great idea.
  • Good Beer Map by Chris Neale and Iain Collins was what it says on the tin – it takes the good beer guide and turns it into a map application with geo search. Cheers.


  • Social Aggregator by Syd Lawrence, Sam Clarke and Alex Teugels and George Brocklehurst’s XFM Profile detector both create social graphs and connections and allow you to find out more about people by following links with the rel=”me” attribute. Both are great ideas but somehow it feels strange to have to go through scraping and finding mf data when all these systems do have APIs. Good job though!
  • My “deer in headlight award” would have gone to Shevek who has created a visual studio style interface for Hadoop. Proper audience baffling there.
  • GeoPong by Marko Mrdjenovic and Marko Samastur was a quite irrelevant but lovely hack that showed geolocated images overlaid over satellite maps as a pong ball with two paddles playing with it.
  • Mobile Steel was a hardware hack that allowed the hack team Henry Senior, Daniel Sikar, Hans Fraiponts and Peter De Keyser to control a steel guitar with an iPhone. Sadly enough the presentation was terrible. With this kind of hack, just show what it does and then explain how you made it.
  • RightNahoo! by Dan Counsell, Nik Fletcher, Keith Duncan and Danny Greg was nothing that new – basically a local geo search aggregator over several services. What I loved was the interface. All written in native mac code it just looked sweet and making shaking the iphone the start of the whole process was a nice touch.
  • Kisses by Mary Rose Cook was intriguing, too. A comparison engine scraping the web for data. For sure the most feisty presentation, cool stuff.
  • iBoe by Hans Fraiponts, Xflame (come on!), stef and Peter was a small robot controlled via a laptop with an iphone. Sweet, but could become more interesting if it learns as the description on the hack trackr promises :)
  • Newspan by Mark Norman Francis, Richard Boulton and James Aylett is a bayesian filter for RSS news, making it easier for you to filter your daily news intake down to what really matters to you. A really ambitious project that could become very useful.
  • Bad API by Andrew Betts was an interesting testing tool that simulates different API failures, thus allowing you to test your apps against these problems.

Hacks I like very much but by hackers that forgot to leave us URLs, grrr

  • PlaqueHack had me very interested. From what I gathered (guys where is the friggin URL???) Simon Harriyott, Marvin Barretto, Jez Nicholson and Frankie Roberto took a national heritage DB of plaques with names of famous people in the UK and mashed them up with geolocated photos. This would be a cool app for a London tourism site.
  • Tweet my Ride by Salim Virani and Saalim Chowdhury was the great idea of cab sharing via twitter with local lookup and matching of twitter user locations. Now if we had a link I could talk about it…
  • KitHub by Ed, Fabien, Aurelie and Anna was an annotation interface for photos of physical design objects with threading built from scratch with YUI3. Nicely executed and I hope this will get released. A url would help.
  • Street Tag by Murray Steele and Ben Griffiths allowed overlaying photos in Google Street View and storing their location. Good fun that could actually be used for displaying ads

One thing that made me really happy was how well the band was received. The guys from Pornophonique were very impressed and had a great time playing.

Can’t wait for the next hack day, which incidently is on Friday with the students of Sunderland university showing off what they produced in the last few months.

Retrieve and display Flickr photos the easy way with getFlickrBy

Saturday, May 9th, 2009

As part of my talk on YQL for Open Hack London I’ve thought of an easy way to get Flickr photos that you are allowed to display in your products and hacks.

The wrapper API getFlickrBy works around the somewhat convoluted data returned from Flickr’s API methods and uses YQL to cut the information you want down to the bare necessities. Furthermore the API only returns photos that are licenced with Creative Commons’ “By” license to avoid you using photos you have no right to use (which is a big thing with the Flickr crowd).

The API endpoint is:

You have several parameters to play with:

The location you want photos of as defined in the Yahoo Geo API
A word you want to search for
The format of the returned data, XML, HTML or JSON - preset is XML
A name of a JavaScript function call to wrap the JSON data in, in case you want to use the API in a script node
The amount of photos returned, max is 100 – preset is 20
the photo size, “s” for 75×75px, “t” for thumbnail, “m” for medium, omit to get big size

The API returns only what you need: the image title, the owner, the url of the image and the link to Flickr. If you use html as the output format it returns an HTML list of linked images. For output demos and explanations simply call the API without any parameters

Here are some examples how to use the API: