By Joseph Schiarizzi, BS in Computer Science, GWU, 2018
Nap on the bus, you’ll need the sleep. Because for the next 72 hours there probably won’t be any (unless you really need it). You’ll be hacking. Before going further it’s important to understand that hacking in this sense doesn’t mean stealing credit card numbers. It means programming, debugging, reprogramming, computing, plugging, pushing, pulling, and coding.
Welcome to HopHacks, John Hopkins biannual hackathon, where hundreds of students from dozens of universities come together to hack. Our group of 10 (from GW, UMD, and Georgetown) was greeted by eccentric volunteers and staff of the hackathon and then were presented with free water bottles, t-shirts, and dinner. The sponsors of the event (Google, the NSA, Bloomberg, and Accenture to name a few) gave a quick speech on what they do, what they are looking for this weekend and some advice. Then the hack started.
All of the sponsors had tables where professional software developers, database engineers, and some of the most creative computer scientists ever were waiting to give us free stuff and help with our hacks…which was good because at one point I needed to make a SQL database and had never done that before. The sponsors were there to mentor as much as anything, which personally, is a really valuable asset: How often do you get to sit and chat with a google employee about some piece of code you need help with?
We set up shop in a lecture room in the basement of the building. After brainstorming, our group of 10 split into 2 groups of 4 doing programming hacks and a pair that were doing some hardware stuff I don’t understand. Before getting into the programming, my teammate Victoria and I decided that we wanted to experiment with some stuff first. Because the event is sponsored by MLH (major league hacks) there is a ton of awesome hardware available to use: for example, a really big monitor for plugging into a small laptop, pebble smart watches, and other fun things. I first went for the Oculus. I’ve always dreamed of virtual reality and now that I had access to it, I wasn’t going to not play with it. So I took the OR, a big monitor, and the Myo right off the bat. If you haven’t seen the concept trailer for the Myo check it out. It was a little buggy but pretty much worked like that. We also made it work with the Sphero as shown in the video.
Victoria and I went to work playing with the OR and seeing what games and programs were actually compatible with the Myo for the first 4 hours or so. The rest of the time was spent eating great food provided by John Hopkins and pizza at 2am each day, hacking, and getting help from the sponsors. I went into the programming section with experience with Android studio, some C, some HTML and CSS, and a lot of Java. Within my team, we all taught each other something. Personally, I learned a lot about databases, more about C, and a lot more about using APIs. If you’re interested in our final product and what we actually coded you can read about it on the submission devpost page. We wouldn’t have been able to finish without the help of the awesome mentors from Accenture and Google.
We came up with the name “Sanabit” for the project because it means healing in Latin and also has the word BIT in it which we thought was the most genius and hilarious thing ever after not sleeping for 3 days. At the end of the hackathon we gave a 2 minute presentation about our hack and although we didn’t win anything we had a ton of fun and learned a lot along the way.