Hack the Tower February 2013

When 100 developers and 1 robot signed up for the February edition of Hack the Tower, across many technical communities in London, I could tell it was going to be a big event.

Heading out for a full day of coding @HackTheTower - excited about what people will create today #LSDC #LondonScala #LJCjug #LdnClj #robots

Developers arrived from different communities, including

@sandromancuso Yeah our little team is awesome, I believe we’re the last ones still coding :) @HackTheTower idea is great, I truly enjoy it!


Starting the Hack day

Hack the tower is an open space where developers can collaborate on projects.

As the host I encourage people to form groups along share interests or goals, so they can learn things from each other and lean on each others experiences. To that end, I ask anyone with a project or idea to share it at the start and encourage people to join one of these projets. Most people had some idea of what they wanted to work on, although quite a few changed their minds when they heard about the robot project.

I spent part of the day working on Clojure projects, including setting up Clojure on Windows 8 (not known as great developer platform). I also helped people get to grips with git and managing multiple repositories as well as a guidance on using Heroku and MongoDB for the London Scala website project.

Cloud services powering Hack the Tower

Much of what we do at Hack the Tower is powered by cloud services for developers. Without tools like Github, Heroku and Google search, coding applications would be so much harder.

We got a brief reminder of this when we broke Github :)

…and github is down for maintenance!!! :O @HackTheTower #LondonScala

Luckily Github was not down for long. As git is distributed, we were able to save our changes locally or topped up on Coffee whist we waited a few minutes for Github to come back.

Dancing robot, curious developers

Everyone’s instant favourite project seemed to be the NVO robot. Its an amazing piece of kit. Essentially a programmable robot that can by default can play Japanese music and do Tai Chi.

You can program the robot visually, by dragging and dropping actions and wiring them up together. You can create a sequence of positions and get the software to work out the moves necessary to go from one position to another. Just like digital animators use in software like blender.

You can drill down into each of these actions and program the robot in python or several other languages.

Many thanks to @jr0cket for organising @HackTheTower today! Introduced a bunch of developers to #NAORobot, learnt stuff and had fun too


The robot has stereoscopic cameras and can do face recognition, in that it recognises a face when it is in front of it. This means the robot will talk to you when you when it looks at you, although it cant tell one face from another by default. The robot has pressure sensors and fingers so it can interact with its environment.

@HackTheTower My view today


London Scala user group

There were a lot of developers from LSug group and they ended up split into three smaller groups to focus on different problems.

Some of the team were working with MongoDB, some working on the RSVP via meetup. All the events displayed on the Lsug website can now be joined directly, without having to visit the meetup site. Perhaps the total number of Yes RSVP’s can be added to each meetup?

Coding board

@villademor Experimenting with codingboard.org, #Scala on @HackTheTower #LondonScala with @balopat, @gnorsilva among others!

Coding Board is a small web application allowing developers to share code with each other in a hands-on session. When we want to talk about the decisions we took as we approached a problem, its nice to have the code itself shared on the screen in a syntax highlighted way.

Balint Pato started this project as a Christmas gift for the London Software Craftsmanship Community using:

The project is under an open source license and the code is available on Github for you to clone and fork.

we went live: Syntax highlighting on edit, max 24 hours long boards, loads of small fixes, altogether 10 pull requests! @HackTheTower #LondonScala

Read a blog of the days events for this project from Balint Pato himself.

balopat meetup photos :) @HackTheTower


London Clojurians - getting going with Clojure

Two of us helped out a developer relatively new to Clojure, although they did have some past experience with Lisp. We helped them get ther environment set up, which was a bit more of a challenge as the were running Windows 8.

Luckily its still fairly easy to set up a working Clojure environment on Windows, although just about every command seemed to ask for the Administrators password! On the Leiningen website, there is reference to a 3rd party bat file for getting going with windows. The problem with this bat file is that its dependant on either wget or curl, neither of which were available on this machine.

We got round the problem by manually doing what the leiningen bat file did, downloading the .jar file and putting it in ~/.lein/self-install/…jar

A problem still remand with running lein. The version in the .bat file was different from the ..jar file, so lein attempted to use and download a different version, which it couldnt find. As we didnt have curl or wget to download the version in the bat file, we simply changed the bat file manually.

Some other aspects to setting up Clojure on windows 8 included:

  • make sure javac is on the path, we only had java and lighttable failed
  • install leiningen - there is a bat file or use cygwin
  • install lighttable
  • use lein to create a new project and connect to a REPL

Salesforce for charity

Another team formed around the Salesforce platform. The were developing a tool to extract data from charity sites like Virgin Just Giving, helping fund raising organisations improve their fund-raising capabilities and getting a better view on where funds were coming from.

The data captured is filtered for the valuable data and the tool would allow you to match the incoming data with existing information you have.

The project is open source and available on Github.

Java, Java, Java

A team was also working on Java and some of the technical activity around the Java Community Process (JCP). The JCP is a way for others to help shape the future of the Java language and define the specifications for the language.

Coding through the night?

I did wonder at one point if we would still be here coding through Sunday as there were teams coding well into the evening. By about 6pm everyone had got headed off into the beautiful London night.

villademor @sandromancuso @HackTheTower @balopat @gnorsilva we really had a good time Sandro! Shame we couldn’t catch up with you!

sandromancuso @villademor Seems you guys are having loads of fun. Shame I could not make it. /cc @HackTheTower @balopat @gnorsilva

Join us for the next HackTheTower event

Come along and join the fun. If you are a developer who likes to learn and share experiences with others, then all you need is a laptop and some enthusiasm (laptop optional).

Sign up at either:

Thank you.

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