McHacks, Imagine Cup and Meow

Good Evening, to the two people who read my blog (hint: you’re one of them).

This is probably the fourth intro I’ve scrounged up to make this post. Right now I’m watching World Cup highlights, but previously I was trying to start this during a bus ride from New York (my efforts were disrupted by a family of fat ladies who wouldn’t shut the fuck up) and other times I was probably doing homework or talking to girls or something. Anyway, my life is usually too exciting to spend time writing.¬†I debate whether I’d even do it if wouldn’t serve to betray my memory in my old senile Alzheimer years. In other words, let’s skip all the nitty-gritty idiosyncrasies¬†that make my life interesting¬†and focus on only a handful of hyper abstracted anecdotes.

Sometime in February (well, February 24th or something like that), I bombed a linear algebra test because I believed my time would be better spent attending “Canada’s largest hackathon” aka McHacks/McGill hackathon (an accolade¬†being contested by Waterloo’s hackathon the upcoming Fall). In hindsight I somewhat regret the decision as I’m redoing linear right now and it jeopardized my university admissions, but at the same time I know it’s going to be one of those things I’ll look back at in a few years and be like “I’d make¬†it this far¬†even if I was doing¬†meth at the time.”

photo 2

Typical hackathon fare.

McHacks was my first major hackathon. I honestly went in thinking I could win. Yeah, I’m that type of guy. *Honestly*, I still¬†think I had a fucking good chance of winning as well. Never mind the socially inept people who came wearing¬†team uniforms,¬†clutching 27″ monitors and¬†handing out business cards to their half assed sites advertising shoddy freelancing services. They may have won, but at the end of the day, their displays were so unimpressive that they’re simply asking to beget my contempt.¬†Ultimately we failed due to major preparation gaffes, teamwork issues and probably a lack of consideration by the important judges.

The aforementioned preparation gaffe is a typical one for myself, one that I keep beating myself over every time I work on a project. EmguCV (the C# wrapper for OpenCV) has the finickiest¬†library reference configuration in the world. Coupled with Windows 8/WPF/WinForms,¬†x86/x64/ARM¬†and the¬†Parrot AR Drone’s SDK, we spent like 8 hours trying to set¬†up a project that¬†would support everything and run. In the end we ended up subbing Emgu for Aforge.NET, a CV library I had never touched previously. The sole thing I might dread the most in programming might be trying to get all the references right.

As for our team,¬†we definitely had good chemistry, but we lacked maturity. My attempts to goad¬†my¬†two partners¬†into preparing by either studying the libraries or learning certain topics before the event fell on deaf ears (and lazy eyes, for I kept nagging them on fb as well). We relied on a multitude of methods to transfer code: e-mails,¬†IM, pen drives, pair programming and some brand new framework we invented on TFS where I’d create a brand new project every time we needed to make a commit.

To further detriment our efforts, one of my teammates had huge reliability issues. He’d be given instructions¬†and then he’d start¬†striking his keys furiously. Half an¬†hour later, he would have accomplished nothing and wouldn’t have even brought the topic up.¬†He’d act really busy¬†and not acknowledge tasks as if he didn’t have the time for it, but he’d join in¬†on every other conversation.¬†At times he’d just disappear and on one instance he just flat out left out left for hours. ¬†I appreciated his enthusiasm and GUI¬†re-skinning skills, but incompetence to this degree is completely intolerable.

It would be one thing if he didn’t know stuff and¬†asked for¬†help. I’m always more than glad to teach and offer pointers. This wasn’t the case here however. I can only hope that said partner develops more confidence in his abilities and that I better anticipate such cases in the future.

The other guy had stress and time management issues, but overall he was¬†able to figure things out and make contributions to the project. His major problem is that he thinks he’s really smart (which he is) so he believes he can substitute intuition for experience.¬†This tends to result in a cool don’t worry about it approach at the onset of an activity and midway through there’s always a “Fuck, fuck,¬†fuck, ciboire”¬†and significant stressing over.

These issues boiled over into judging, where the nails were finally drawn out and any hopes we had were stuffed into a coffin and cast into the Ganges. Due to the nature of our hack, we needed a lot of room to perform our demo. The organizers however kept insisting that we be confined to one of 300, meter long table spots in a¬†small room. This meant that we’d have to go out to demo our project, during which our judges would come to our table and see no one (certain members failed to stay at the table and tell them). Pretty sure we didn’t receive about half our judges.

Many of the hackathon organizers loved our project, but a few were especially conservative and it was evident that they would stifle any attempt at us being chosen as well. I can understand that. Surely they felt their reputation was on the line and it was safer to go for lackluster projects than something wacky and a tad controversial.

The hackathon itself was pretty standard. It’s what’d you’d expect from a large hackathon. The food was good, not amazing. It was plentiful and you’d be tired of it by the first day. The poutine was really hyped up, but I liked it less than regular poutine (it was more like potatoes with gravy. To be fair, I’m sure it’d taste better if the organizers did a better job with it logistically). We ended up eating¬†a shit ton of fortune cookies, because they had them. We were maybe hoping to harness all the fortune or something.

The hack we ended up developing was the Beautiful Amazing Ex-Girlfriend Tracker. It’s basically a drone that tracks your ex-girlfriend. Not creepy at all. (I’m not sure if I should actually explain myself here, but then again this is the internet).

Funding SVAngel's David Lee's College Education.

Funding SVAngel’s David Lee’s College Education.

Mind you, we actually did pretty well. A lot better than about 80% of the projects there. Many teams failed to present anything by the end and just walked out. We had plenty of fun discussions with people about working with drones and computer vision. At the end of the day, it’s still a hack I get to brag about to people, as opposed to any of the hacks there (don’t remember any except tinder for hackers. Honestly I’d just use tinder for that). Overall it was a fun experience and I’d do it all over again.

*Tea Break*

Feeling better?

Later on in the year, I ended winning the Canadian Microsoft Imagine Cup. Typically I’d make a post about how excited I was and how I was looking forward to the semi-finals. Didn’t end up going to Seattle for the finals. Some of the other projects were quite strong, stronger than mine. I’m actually quite excited to see how they develop. If anything, they’ll set the benchmarks for next year.

The project I developed is MARISA, or Mass Assaying Relaying Inquiring Survey Apparatus. It can be summed as a system that relies on sensors, software and the cloud to analyze an environment for dangers or people in need. It can be deployed in a disaster zone to look for people trapped under debris. It can survey children at a daycare. For the IC I developed a prototype with a Kinect that use image processing to gather vital signs from people (such as heart rate, breathing rate, etc.)

I ended up getting a handful of small accolades from various parties, small sums of money and some hardware. Overall pretty satisfied.

In other news, I recently got a cat. A friend of mine went bankrupt¬†and¬†couldn’t¬†afford to keep her cat, so¬†I decided to take it. He’s about three years old and really fat.

Soju's fat.

Soju’s fat.

I’m calling him Soju, after my favourite alcoholic beverage. My sister insists on calling it Mittens. What kind of dumb name is that right? Might as well call it Panties or something.

Soju can into R-Score.

Soju can into R-Score.

You can never have too much soju right?

You can never have too much soju right?

Anyway, I should publish this before I fall asleep again (I started this like two days ago). There were a handful of other events during the past months that I should have documented, but for the sake of living in the moment, I will purge them from my memory and focus on writing about more recent times.

Okay fuck it, goodnight.