Rejected, Not Dejected : Hack A Day with CashOnAd
May 14, 2014
I was awake and the clock had its hands stretched and aligned perfectly at midnight. It wasn't a striking clock, but my heart was definitely beating in a similar way. A couple hours ago, I had come to know about a hardware hackathon taking place the next day, as a part of Hardware Freedom Day. And my preparations? None. But that wasn’t the reason why clouds of excitement and anxiety hovered around me. In fact, I wasn’t awake to build another one of those line followers or start a project for the hackathon. There was something else, something that seemed decisive for my career.
It was Pi-Day. In other words: MIT Decisions Day. 4 hours were left until decisions, and the closer it got, the longer the wait seemed. Two halves of myself were battling it out against one another. One had the belief, and glimmers of hope while the other one had fear and remorse. One said, “Oh, it’s going to be a great riding all the way to Massachusetts, building bigger and badder bots, meeting Pat Mccabe!”, while the other said, “Ah, great, now what am I going to do?” And so, the fight lasted, long enough that the clock read 6:28 PM EST. Decisions were released.
Ah great! Here we go. I was staring at the holy grail of all the decisions in my career so far: The MIT Decisions Page. I had promised to make it a quick one so I bolted past the decisions page, not even reading the warning signal that read “There are no Are you Sure Pages.” And well, it didn’t take me long to know of my rejection. The devil’s thoughts had prevailed. I wasn’t going to be a part of MIT Class 2018. But before emotions and fantasy could get the better of me, I said, “Big deal Enig! We got a hackathon to win!”
Well, the soldering iron rod was in place, an Arduino was lying right there on the table, a couple of servos, check, but let’s face it. In terms of a working project, the odds mocked me. But hey, it was a hackathon! So we were going to be hacking things on the field, building robots out of nothing, smashing everything together just to get something on the plate. Now there was the fun rather than carrying a working model of a supersonic time-traveller to the hackathon! I felt my passion for this incredible hobby of building robots was just enough as far as preparations were concerned. Then, I remembered that I was an LMRian. I also remembered our honoured LMR founder FritsL mentioning the quote, “You’re a very talented person.” (Don’t believe me? Read the Rules! :P ) Was I just rejected from MIT? Well, it didn’t feel like that after an hour of breaking the icy news!
So I got some sleep for like 2 hours and headed towards the hackathon site. The event was a part of Google Developer Groups - Kahtmandu's 3rd Anniversary and was also aimed at promoting the active involvement of women in the tech--field. It was jointly organized by RAN, GDG-KTM and GDG Women Nepal It was at a shopping mall called Blue Bird Mall. My bag pack was loaded up with everything that my hands could catch hold of: wires, tape, pliers, batteries, sensors, circuit boards, solder equipment, and boy was it heavy! It took me exactly an hour to reach there. I got a cool T-shirt upon my arrival and confirmed my registration for the event.
The venue was grand. It felt like something I hadn’t much often been part of. For a quick example, the sofas were grand and cozy and so were the breakfast plates! There was music and there were people gathered at every corner discussing and sharing ideas. Anyways, we had quick breakfast and the organizers introduced us briefly to the competition. One downfall of the event was that although we were informed about a Hardware Hackathon taking place, it turned out to be a Software Hackathon! The task was to build a desktop application that updated the user on the load-shedding times (power outage schedules) and provided options to execute a certain task (Shutdown, Restart, etc.) Well, the organizers told us that it was all planned and that they had meant to give us a surprise, but that wasn’t a surprise by any means! There I was with nearly 5 kilos of hardware loaded in my backpack, and that wasn’t a pleasant start to the hackathon!
The event was dominated by software geeks, but we hardware geeks valiantly fought until the event was divided into a hardware hackathon and a software hackathon. (The fight never got intense!) There were people from diverse fields so it would have been fun to build a desktop app, but I quickly found two other senior guys who had suffered a similar fate by bringing a huge rover which they had planned to control via an Android App ( through gestures). Birds of a feather flock together and we quickly grabbed a place for carrying out our hardware hacks.
While the event eventually did provide a platform for demonstrating hardware stuffs, the more exciting part was that our task was merged with that of the Software Hackathon. Hardware geeks had to build a system that was related in a way to load-shedding. So, the task was specific but we were free to develop our own concepts for implementation. The event was so closely related to the load-shedding condition of Nepal that every team had to pick a name from one of the established hydro-power projects in the country! That was interesting as almost all of the electricity is generated from hydro power plants. To name a few: Kali Gandaki HPP (the biggest HPP), Farping HPP (the first HPP), etc. We were a group of three and we thought for a long time as choices were limited and most were already picked. Finally, we were Team Tamakoshi for that day!
Our Team. Me on the right and two undergrad senior year students
First, we thought of building a rover that ran towards the owner to inform that it was time for the power outage. But that wasn’t very innovative and neither did it seem applicable in daily life. So we thought of another idea and this time, it seemed that it was much more practicable and that it also could be realized in the real world. What we finalized to build was a Load-Shedding Notification System. First, we built an app that had the load-shedding time-table. Then, the App communicated with the user’s computer to check the current time as well as the time left for load-shedding/time passed since load-shedding. Finally, the computer communicated through Bluetooth with an Arduino and the final notification was displayed on an LCD. Depending on the results, we controlled a few LEDs. What that tried to convey was that devices in the real world could be controlled in a similar way. For eg : once it was 15 minutes to load-shedding, a computer could be turned off and at the same time, the water pump could be turned on. Although the entire system ended up being a series of unnecessary steps, the plan was to integrate pieces of hardware into our project and make the project meaningfully related to load-shedding at the same time. And we were successful in at least doing that.
Testing the project
Our prototype for the day
As I mentioned previously, the event had a large number of software geeks than hardware geeks, but it isn’t just a few times that I have seen software guys build amazing hardware projects or vice versa. Many projects right here on LMR prove it all. Nevertheless, there were only 2 teams in the hardware hackathon contest and around 10 in the software part. Our hardware counterparts, on the other hand, were using a Raspberry Pi for their project but they sadly couldn’t implement their ideas completely.
The only other hardware team
Oh, and I almost forgot to talk about the food. It was delicious. The organizers never left us hungry or thirsty for a bit. The whole day, there were staffs running here and there with plates and glasses in their hands and we certainly appreciated it. Food was served right at our workbenches and that saved us a lot of time to focus on our builds.
The hackathon commenced at 9 AM and ended at around 5 PM. It was now time for results!
Each team was called upon stage to present its project. Team Tamakoshi (you do remember that’s us, right?) were also called after 45 minutes. We talked about our approach towards the event and how we included hardware to match it with the event’s task. We became the winners of the Hardware Hackathon, and received an AVR Board. On the software part, a lot of interesting ideas were presented. There were Linux, Mac and OS applications, each with a twist of its own and I forgot the winning team’s name but they had made an audacious attempt to use a not so popular script (at least in the event) in their application which made them winners of the software hackathon.
The winning software team
Another software team : The guy in the specs was the most hilarious ( and perhaps the most talented ) in the event.
The theme of the event was Code, Adapt, Evolve. While the theme suited the software guys, I personally wished to add a final word, “Build”, just to make it even for us hardware guys and our project. So, for me it was: Code, Build, Adapt and Evolve and that was exactly what all of us did. We coded our system, we integrated our code with pieces of hardware to build a working notification system, we adapted to the task that was randomly decided on the spot, and at the end of the day, I am sure we all learned a lot to evolve in a certain way. But software and hardware are two wheels of the same cart and while the hackathon was divided, it could never have took place in the absence of either one.
The event also featured a separate mini - event. I didn't quite catch upto it but I guess it was a webpage development session.
That was it. The event had come to an end. My day, that had started at an all-time low (just for a while), ended on a high note. It taught me that finishing is what matters. Life may throw all the crap at you and make you feel down and out, but it isn’t quite over at that moment. You know, I am actually quite happy about my rejection! It’s going to teach me to try harder. It’s even going to teach me to fail better, just to learn something more.
And in my journey, there are the best of them all : LMR and LMRians.
See you guys in the SB.
Photo Courtesy : Google Development Groups - Kathmandu ( and partly me :P )