The Revolutionaries

Premasagar Rose was one of the many brilliant hackers at Science Hack Day. He headed up the team that built The Revolutionaries:

…an explorer of the influence and relationships between different scientists, inventors and revolutionary thinkers.

The original idea was to help visualise how we arrive at great inventions, and how ideas evolve over time. For example, something like the space shuttle is the result of countless generations of converging technologies, and all the thought processes and new paradigms behind them.

It's a great interface onto data from Wikipedia (via DBpedia) with Science Museum data to follow.

Prem has written up the process of building the app and lists the many technologies under the hood: SPARQL queries, YQL, and local storage. Feel free to grab the code from Github.

The Revolutionaries is a great example of how the story of science is so well-suited to the hypertext.

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Live Tube Map

Not every hack created at Science Hack Day was directly related to science. Matthew Somerville used the time to create a live tube map using the newly-released TfL API.

It didn't qualify for a prize — despite Matthew naming it Status Console Indicating Events Needing Carriages Everywhere — but it certainly captured the imagination of the Twittersphere.

Meanwhile, over at The Guardian — hosts to Science Hack Day — Charles Arthur asks what else can be built with transport data?

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Launch success!

The world's first Science Hack Day is at end. I hereby declare the mission a success!

It was a truly wonderful weekend. There was plenty of food, plenty of drink, plenty of bandwidth, but most of all, plenty of incredibly smart people with great ideas.

The list of hacks on the wiki is just one reflection of the energy and enthusiasm that was abundant throughout the event. If you were one of the science hackers, be sure to update the wiki with URLs and team members — just because the hack day is over, doesn't mean the hacking has to stop.

Thank you to everyone who demoed a hack at the end, in the stressful time window of just 120 seconds. And congratulations to the prize winners. Here are just some of the projects that launched:

  • Random Orbit — a satellite tracking site. Please keep working on this, guys: it's going to be a great resource.
  • Open Dirt Map — a mapping site for soil samples. The web site is only half the story: the hackers went out gathering and analysing soil samples (it turns out that an iPad is a handy device for comparing soil colour and PH values).
  • Co-author Cloud — a handy visualisation tool for showing who has written papers with who. It's easy to configure and you can add it to your own site today.
  • How Fast Am I? — a fun way of comparing measurements: the perfect accompaniment to The Wellcome Trust's sensors for schoolkids.
  • The Aurorascope — there's no URL for this one because it was a physical object: a beautiful dodecicosidodecahedron with LEDs that lit up to show where auroral activity was happening on Earth.

There were plenty of other brilliant creations: a CSS solar system, a porcine weather vane …and many more.

Thanks also to everyone who spoke on the first day, setting the scene for the event and getting everyone inspired. It was a particular joy for me to wrap up those talks with a specially recorded message from Jill Tarter on SETIquest:

Jill Tarter's message to Science Hack Day on Vimeo

Thank you so much to all the sponsors: The Wellcome Trust, Nature Publishing Group, Yahoo! Developer Network, Thoughtworks, Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network, Global Radio, Elsevier, and BERG.

A special thank you to The Guardian, not just for supplying us with the perfect venue, but also for providing a fantastic events team in Alex Hazell, Rebecca Knight and Emily Davies. They ensured everything went as smoothly as a superconductor.

Most of all, thank you to all the wonderful science hackers. If you see your face in this gallery of awesomeness, be sure to add yourself.

There's a Flickr pool for Science Hack Day: if you took any pictures, add them to the pool please (and tag them with "scihack").

Carolina Ödman went one further and created a time-lapse video:

SciLapse on Vimeo

Now, let's keep that energy flowing. Don't stop hacking! Update the wiki if you have more to share.

This Science Hack Day could be the first of many. There's already talk of more cities

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Science Hack Day kicks off in just 48 hours. Here's everything you need to know about the event.

Firstly, make sure your name is on the list of attendees before Friday. If it's not, just edit the wiki page to add your name to the list.

Secondly, although it's called Science Hack Day, it goes right through Saturday night and into Sunday. But you don't need to worry about where to spend the night: you can stay at the venue, coding and mashing up to your hearts' content. If you want to get some sleep, please bring a sleeping bag.

Please show up at The Guardian office on 90 York Way between 10:30am and 11:30am on Saturday. See the schedule for the lowdown on what happens after that. The nearest tube stop to the venue is King's Cross St. Pancras.

Bring a laptop. There will be plenty of electrical outlets and the tubes of the internets will be available in both wireless and wired variety. Feel free to use the office desks but please remember to plug any ethernet cables you use back into the desktop machines when you're done.

We will have all of the first floor to play with: the office area, meeting rooms and the snazzy Scott Room for presentations. But do remember that there will be people working elsewhere in the building — the news doesn't stop on weekends. Noise carries to the second floor, especially near the stairwell, so bear that in mind when your excitement about science threatens to transmute into rowdiness.

Food and drink will be provided for you. Breakfast and lunches will be available from The Guardian canteen. Saturday night pizza will be delivered from the outside world.

Please put all rubbish in the bins provided. The Guardian, as you would expect, tries to recycle wherever possible, so please take the time to separate your rubbish into the relevant bins.

Most of all, have fun! If you're nervous because you don't have any specific ideas of what to do — or you've never been to a hack day before — don't worry: there will be plenty of people with ideas who will need your skills. It's an incredibly rewarding experience to form an ad-hoc team to spend 24 hours creating something crazy and exciting.

If you have any other questions, check the Questions of Varying Frequency and, if it's not answered there, feel free to email Jeremy Keith at jeremy@adactio.com or ask the question on Twitter with a @sciencehackday mention.

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Sensors for the nation

The Wellcome Trust are generously sponsoring Science Hack Day. They are also working on some very cool projects based around public engagement with science.

One of their most ambitious projects will be taking place over the next two years to tie in with the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Imagine if every schoolchild in Britain were given a device; a device with sensors for measuring heart rate, breath, and other pieces of data that our bodies generate. Would could you do with that data if it were uploaded to the web?

The Wellcome Trust are planning to make this vision and a reality and they would love to hear any ideas you might have. So if you've been wondering what to do at Science Hack Day, you could think about what the design and UX of the website might be like.

There are countless opportunities for creating mashups with the generated data. This is also a great opportunity to influence the future development of this long-term project.

The physical device, replete with sensors, is still in the prototype stage but is capable of capturing and outputting data. Best of all, you'll get a demonstration of the device on Saturday!

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Research records

Cameron Neylon — who will be speaking at the June Tech Meet the night before Science Hack Day — has an idea for an app for capturing and connecting research objects. Here's the problem statement:

I want a system where people record EVERYTHING they are doing in their research with links to all data, analyses, output, etc. And I want access to it from anywhere. And I want to be able to search it intelligently.

And here's the proposed solution from Cameron:

Build a web service on the DropBox API that enables users (or instruments) to subscribe and capture new digital objects, creating an exposed feed of resources.

He needs some help building it. Can you help out? Sounds like it could be a juicy Semantic Web project, maybe involving Freebase or OpenCalais.

Read his proposal and, if it sounds like something you'd enjoy, give him a hand at Science Hack Day.

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SESI and SETI events

Most of the people coming to Science Hack Day are based either in the UK or elsewhere in Europe. There are plenty of people in the United States, Canada, and elsewhere that would love to come along but for the prohibitive cost of travelling to England. Fortunately there are plenty of science events taking place in North America.

The west coast of America is going to be particularly well-served this August. The 2010 Space Elevator Conference, organised by Space Engineering and Science Institute (SESI), will take place in Redmond, Washington from August 13th to 15th.

Down the coast in Santa Clara, California SETIcon will be taking place ...also from August 13th to 15th.

So all you hardware hackers can figure out how to make a space elevator while all the software hackers get to grips with all the data being produced by the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence. In fact, SETIquest has been set up with you in mind:

The current searches for radio signals from distant technological civilizations can benefit from your creative talents. If you are good at writing efficient code and like to participate in open source projects — we need you. If you are knowledgeable about digital signal processing and pulling signals out of noise — we need you. If you are eager to use your eyes, ears, and mind to help us find anomalies in the data streaming from the Allen Telescope Array — we need you.

You'll need to sign up to get access to the data and API right now; hopefully access will be opened up before too long.

The SETI institute is asking for our help in making their data more freely available and accessible. I can think of no finer endeavour to support.

Jill Tarter's call to join the SETI search
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Technical details

We're on the home stretch now — it's less than one week until Science Hack Day weekend!

I've updated the schedule page with a bit more detail on how things are going to run. Basically, get yourself along on Saturday morning any time between 10:30am and 11:30am and we'll get the party started.

Before you start planning your fiendish science hacks, I just wanted to let you know some technical considerations. The Guardian are very generously donating their venue and their bandwidth for the event, however there are some security restrictions in place so not every port will be open by default. As well as port 80, the following ports will be opened up:

  • Port 22 (SFTP)
  • Port 993 (IMAP)
  • Ports 2401, 3690, 9418 (CVS, SVN, and Git)
  • Port 6667 (IRC)
  • Port 5223 (Jabber/GTalk)

If you're going to need another port opened up, please let me know as soon as possible and I'll pass the message along to The Guardian tech crew.

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June Tech Meet

If you're going to be in London the day before Science Hack Day, you're in luck. The June Tech Meet will take place on Friday the 18th from 6pm at King’s College London (Seminar Room 2.21).

Cameron Neylon from the Science and Technology Facilities Council — who is also on the list of attendees for Science Hack Day — will give a talk entitled What has the public ever done for us?

Public engagement and measures of impact, economic or otherwise, are becoming an increasing burden for working scientists. At the same time public distrust in science fuelled by scandals over data release and a lack of understanding of the scientific process appears to be increasing. The web, however offers us the greatest opportunity in history to actively engage people in the process of carrying out science, and the greatest opportunity since the printing press to radically improve the efficiency of scientific communication and scientific process.

Then there'll be some lightning talks and then… beer! at the nearby Rose and Crown. The only thing that could possibly improve this warm-up for Science Hack Day would be a geek pub quiz in the aforementioned pub. If you fancy organising such shenanigans, get in touch with Cass Johnstone from London BioGeeks.

If you're planning to attend the June Tech Meet, leave a comment on the blog post so that Cass has an idea of the numbers.

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The astronomer Carolina Ödman is coming all the way from the Netherlands for Science Hack Day, as she announced on Twitter:

Just booked flight for @sciencehackday! Now I need a couch for the night :)

No couch required! We've got The Guardian offices for the duration of the event, and that includes Saturday night into Sunday morning. I've updated the questions of varying frequency to make that clear.

The sleepover is what make hack days so much fun. Not that much sleeping will be going on. There'll be lots of late night, early morning hacking, coding, and playing of Werewolf.

But if you do think you'll need to get some sleep at some point, bring a sleeping bag with you.

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The Amaz!ng Meeting

Science Hack Day isn't the only science event taking place in London this year. The Amaz!ng Event — also known simply as TAM London — will take place on and at the Hilton London Metropole Hotel.

It looks like it's going to be great. It's organised by The Amazing Randi and guests include Richard Dawkins, Cory Doctorow, Alan Moore, Simon Singh and Stephen Fry. Phew!

Tickets on sale now — but probably not for much longer — from the website for £208.

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Synthetic biology

Craig Venter has finally gone and done it — the creation of synthetic life. So… now what?

Well, some people have been imagining this for a while now. Take designers Alexendra Daisy Ginsberg and James King with their E. Chromi project.

The Wellcome Trust, one of the sponsors of Science Hack Day, has the lowdown on the project:

The team settled on the idea of engineering E. coli bacteria to produce different coloured pigments – raising the possibility of a new, more visual, type of biosensor.

The thinking is that you could check your faeces against a colour card and, through this, monitor what’s going on inside you as a cheap early warning, disease-monitoring system.

The Scatalog is a mock-up of this concept, a suitcase filled with six coloured stool samples.

WHAT IF...Everyday products contained synthetically produced living components?

If you have any ideas for some other biohack concepts, share them on the wiki

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Fictional APIs

Not everything created at Science Hack Day needs to use real data or even real technology. Take a look at the great work being done by The Signtific Lab:

…a public laboratory for developing and sharing cutting edge ideas about the future of science and technology. We invite scientists, engineers, designers, developers, researchers, technologists, and creative thinkers of all kinds to join the lab and help us uncover, together, what is impossible to uncover alone.

Their first experiment invited people to ponder What will you do when space is as cheap and accessible as the Web is today?

In 2019, cubesats — space satellites smaller than a shoebox — have become very cheap and very popular. For $100, anyone can put a customized personal satellite into low-earth orbit.

SIGNTIFIC LAB Experiment #1: Free Space

From that one premise, there are plenty of answers to the questions what's the best thing that might happen? and what's the worst thing that might happen?

What if we got even geekier than that? A little while back, Christian Heilmann mused on Twitter:

So who will be the first to release a read/write personal location API that also transports you there?

While we might not be able to hack together a Star Trek style transporter in 24 hours at Science Hack Day, we could probably write the documentation for the API. What would a typical API call look like? What kind of metadata would you have to provide before doing a POST request? How liberal can you be in if it results in a Seth Brundle problem?

Thought experiments like this can be a lot of fun. Brian Suda and I stayed up all night at a Barcamp in London writing the specification for the format XEN, a parody of XFN.

Fancy writing the documentation for time travel? Want to write an RFC for First Contact? Do you have any other ideas for fictional APIs? Add them to the wiki.

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Plotting pollution

Ian Mulvaney is coming to Science Hack Day and he has some data for us to play with. He has been helping his wife with her PhD on air pollution by collecting data with her.

me with the data rig by Ian Mulvaney on Flickr gioia with a monitor by Ian Mulvaney on Flickr

How cool is that? It's taking the Open Street Map idea to the next level — going out and about with sensors.

Now what can we do with that data? Ian has already plotted the data on Google Earth but, as he mentions on the Science Hack Day wiki:

I can write some hackey Python scripts to make it all happen, but most people can't. Turns out, a lot of what's interesting is something that happens at some time in some place. Can we make interesting stuff that happens easier for non-hackey people to plot in a nice way? (can we make it easier for me?). A kind of data-mashup portal that eats your data and poops pretty pictures, that's what I'd like to see!

He's absolutely right. Timestamps and lat-long co-ordinates are the meat and potatoes of many a hack. I bet we can come up with some new and interesting ways of visualising data (like pollution data) over time in a location.

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Previously on hack day...

If you haven't been to a hack day before, you might be wondering what to expect. I have very fond memories of the London Hack Day at Alexandra Palace three years ago.

London Hack Day on Vimeo

Science Hack Day at The Guardian won't be on quite the same scale. But judging from the previous hack days held at The Guardian, it's going to be just as great.

London Hack Day on Vimeo
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CSS Orrery


…a mechanical device that illustrates the relative positions and motions of the planets and moons in the solar system in a heliocentric model. They are typically driven by a clockwork mechanism with a globe representing the Sun at the centre, and with a planet at the end of each of the arms.

My friend and co-worker Andy Hume has come up with a modern take on this old device: a solar system model in CSS. It would probably have to be Webkit-only but I think it's doable (although a smattering of JavaScript will probably be required).

Here's the really clever bit: rather than hardcoding values into the CSS or JavaScript, extract them from a table of data. Then, by updating the table, you get a different solar system!

Does this sound like something you'd enjoy hacking with? You can add a +1 on and you can leave a comment on Andy's blog.

I can't wait to see this in action.

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A word from our sponsors

Science Hack Day wouldn't be possible without sponsors. Well, it would but then we'd have nothing to eat for 48 hours. It's only due to the graciousness of our sponsors that we'll all be fuelled up with food and drink for our hacking.

The Wellcome Trust and Nature Publishing Group were the first to open up their wallets. They have been recently joined by BERG and Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope.

Now the Yahoo! Developer Network have been added to this illustrious list.

Thank you all!

We can always do with more sponsorship though. If you know of anybody who can help out, please send an email to jeremy@adactio.com (that's me).

It would be really good if we could find some organisations to sponsor prizes for the best hacks. Mmmmm… prizes.

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Moon Zoo goes live

Galaxy Zoo is the ultimate citizen science web project: you log in to the site, you're presented with a galaxy and you start classifying it: is it spiral, for example. It's like Am I Hot Or Not for galaxies and it has been an amazing success:

The original Galaxy Zoo was launched in July 2007, with a data set made up of a million galaxies imaged with the robotic telescope of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. With so many galaxies, the team thought that it might take at least two years for visitors to the site to work through them all. Within 24 hours of launch, the site was receiving 70,000 classifications an hour, and more than 50 million classifications were received by the project during its first year, from almost 150,000 people.

Now the sister site has launched. It's called Moon Zoo:

With your help, we hope to study the lunar surface in unprecedented detail.

Again, it relies on human beings to help sort through images:

We need your help to explore the lunar surface, by answering a series of questions about what you see. The most important thing to remember is that we've chosen tasks that are best done by humans rather than computer, so please don't spend much more than a minute on a any single image.

Clay Shirky spoke about the social surplus that we waste watching television when we could be doing more cognitively valuable tasks. Moon Zoo sounds the perfect place to assign your attention:

Craters can tell us more than just the history of the lunar surface though. In particular, you're asked in Moon Zoo to look for craters with boulders around the rim. Boulders are a sign that the impact was powerful enough that it excavated rock from beneath the regolith (the lunar 'soil') and so by keeping an eye out for these we can begin to map the depth of the regolith across the surface of the Moon.

Of course, in exploring the lunar surface who knows what else you might find. We very much hope that Moon Zoo will lead to the discovery of many unusual features — so please dive in and enjoy a view of the Moon that even Apollo astronauts would enjoy.

Both Galaxy Zoo and Moon Zoo are excellent examples of how science and the web make perfect partners.

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Spotlight on Spacehack

Not all science hacks involve APIs. Take Spacehack, for example. It's described, quite simply, as:

a directory of ways to participate in space exploration.

It's an excellent resource. It gathers together multiple citizen science projects and groups them into categories such as data analysis and education.

I think there's room for more curated aggregators like Spacehack. There's no shortage of amazing science projects on the web but many of them are hidden away deep in the depths of sites that are often, quite frankly, kind of ugly. There's real value in presenting valuable information like this all wrapped up in a beautiful and usable package.

Science Hack Day is the perfect opportunity for designers to use their skills to create more excellent resources like Spacehack.

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Greetings From the Launch Pad

The countdown has begun. Science Hack Day will be happening in a month and a half.

Between now and then, you can keep track of progress right here. Expect plenty of science-related news to get you in the mood as the day approaches.

So subscribe to the feed and start getting exited about making things …with science!

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