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Hackathons, Helpouts, and Angels(sensors)

So, I owe you two posts, and I'll deliver on those shortly. It's been a busy couple of weeks, so I'll break these up as they would have been had I wrote them on the original days they were scheduled for. Now, let us begin.

I attended a hackathon last weekend at the Microsoft Offices in Chevy Chase. Myself and a team of 5 others (mostly co-workers) set out to create something to help prevent fraud and catch bad actors. We had access to Dun and Bradstreet's enormous dataset on near anything you would ever want to know about a business, including its financial information, how many computers they have, competitors, branches, offices, suits, liens, anything. It was a pretty amazing dataset. We decided to work on creating a graph to help visibly see how many degrees of separation existed between a seemingly reputable company and a potentially fraudulent one. It was a fun two days, filled with caffeine, code, and cold pizza.

Our end product was, I thought, pretty good, but the judges obviously didn't think so. I think the judging was fairly rushed (the judges saw all 12 presentations, then left for 7 minutes to decide the winners) and favored projects that incorporated maps into their end design, but regardless I had fun and learned something, which is always my goal when attending these things. I would have preferred to use Go to build our application, but I do not think we would have had something near as complete had we gone that route. Instead, we went with a .Net/C# application utilizing ServiceStack, which is very simple to use. When comparing it to Web API, I find ServiceStack to be much simpler to implement and when checking benchmarks, it looks like it's faster too.

I'm really enjoying these hackathons, even though it takes me a day or so to fully recover from coding for 24 to 30-ish hours straight (these events don't let you start on the projects until around 12 saturday and judging usually starts about 6PM the next day), but I'm learning something new with each one. I plan on searching out more to attend and to make this a regular thing for me to go to.

Next up on my topics to discuss, Google Helpouts. Helpouts launched recently and I think it's doing very well so far. I have had several scheduled Helpouts, but they've all been no shows or cancels so far. I did manage to get a couple practice Helpouts in before the launch though in order to test out the system. To help prevent many of the no-shows from people just testing out the system, I decided to set a price on my Helpout. It's only a dollar for a 15 minute helpout. I didn't want to really charge anything, but I felt $1 was low enough that if anyone's serious about needing assistance, it should be a trivial amount to pay.

Google and the Helpouts team also sent all of us a nice welcoming back. It included some nice "I'm on Helpouts" business cards (just generic cards, not personalized) and some stickers, as well as a really nice Helpouts hoodie. It is very warm and has just been graduated to a position as my "GoTo" hoodie. I still have my others, but this will now be my first choice when it's just slightly cold. Google is going all out with Helpouts and I really thing it is an awesome service that has tons of potential. I'm planning on taking several Helpouts myself.

On to the Angel Sensor. This is an IndieGoGo that I backed with a coworker so we could get the Maker Special, two pack. Basically, the Angel is like that FitBit or Nike Fuelband that you love, including having a similar price, except the Angel is open so that any app can use it, and you can even build your own apps for it. Oh, and did I mention that Angel can collect magnitudes more information than any single FitBit or Fuelband you can buy right now is capable of. This thing can record the usual stuff like all the others such as steps, walking speed, etc., but it can also detect your pulse, blood oximetry, skin temperature, and more. It's amazing. I've been considering getting a FitBit for a while, but when I stumbled across this, it was a no brainer. It's like a FitBit that can see inside me. One of the usage example I love the most is for runners, where this device will be able to pair with an app on your phone and tell you when you're nearing a heat stroke and notify you to slow down and cool off. It will help you know when you can push just a little farther and when it will be best to slow down and, you know, not die.

Angel will be shipping middle of next year and I can't wait.


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