Skip to main content

Homeless Hack Day

Hackathons are all the rage at the moment, and are great events for lots of reasons. I'm aiming to go to hackathons that have charitable objectives, and hence I was excited to see that a bunch of organisations (the Goverment Digital Service, Go On UK, Westminster City Council, The Connection at St Martins, SHP and Homeless Link) had worked together to organise a Homeless Hack Day on 16th June 2012.

Its easy to imagine ways that modern technology can help charities and agencies that work with the homeless. To the uninitiated (i.e, me before the event) its less obvious how modern technology can help the homeless community directly. But during talks from SHP, Homeless Link and The Connection at St Martins we learned that homeless people have increasing opportunities to get online (hostels have internet stations that are among the busiest parts of the centres) and often have access to standard (ie. non-smart) phones. SHP and St Martins both had very successful projects involving sending out news and info to homeless people by SMS. One challenge homeless people face is their phones getting lost, stolen or broken, so keeping track of their changing numbers can be a problem. On the HomelessHack site, The Challenge page describes some of the ideas that were presented going into the event.

Third-sector tech maestro Jon Foster seemed to be the main hacker-herder for the day, and he did a great job priming us with ideas without leading us too prescriptively in any one direction. The most interesting anthropological bit of a hackthon is when everyone mingles around, suggesting ideas and forming into teams. You have to be un-shy about randomly joining discussions with potential teams, and also not too shy about then randomly leaving them and joining another one. It being a one-day hackathon, we only had 7 hours in total for doing things, so Jon and his team encouraged us to crystallise our ideas as soon as possible. Soon we had settled into six teams.

Then we did the doing-things bit. Its quite hard to explain the atmosphere if you haven't done a hackathon before. You meet new people and then rapidly get to work on things, swept along by a wave of enthusiasm and pizzas.

Then the teams did five-minute presentations. It was literally amazing to see what people had done in seven hours.The six projects are detailed on the Homeless Hack Day site:

They were all great, but it was particularly impressive how the Homeless Link API project fed info into the Everyone In project. Everyone In was a smartphone app that allowed people to notify charities and agencies when they see people sleeping rough. It used the Homeless Link API to work out which charity to notify, and also returned a list of relevant agencies to the user so that they could personally offer assistance. It had a great working prototype, and integrated with the open-source Taarifa platform for info collection and visualisation.

I was on the Social Capital team. We started out trying to find ways to make a social network support homeless people, through interaction, positive feedback and building networks of support. However one of our team was actually a homeless overseas student, and in hearing his story of a long bureaucratic struggle to extend his Visa, track down his missing passport and re-establish his official identity, we branched onto a different idea: An SMS based LogBook that would allow homeless people to easily log important information and so give them a better chance of keeping on-top of the things they need to organise. We didn't have time to build any prototypes but we got a lot of design work done, including ideas about how the LogBook could evolve into a social network (hence the Social Capital team name) and from there for it to become a way for people to offer practical donations of support to homeless people. We're writing it up the design now, and hoping it can be used in future hackathons, so watch this space.

The judges, headed up by Marketa Mach, had difficult decisions to make, and they decided to give the awards based on future potential impact. Homeless Link API came first, the Text Donation project came second and Social Capital came third. You can read what the judges said here. I was surprised and delighted that the team I was on came third. I know it sounds like a bit of a cliche, but I really think all of the teams could have won first prize.

The plan is to hold another Homeless Hack Day in a few months time, so it will be really interesting to see what happens next time. Many thanks to @jonfoster, @maakusan, @irenedigital and @teamcampLondon for looking after us, and to my teammates @paolability and @voltron2009.

(Photos by Jon Foster, creative commons license)


Popular posts from this blog

Copying data to Salesforce Sandboxes using TalenD

A common problem with Salesforce Developer Sandboxes is that they are blank. Really you're going to want some data in there, so there are various strategies for copying data from your live instance to the Sandbox. There are some paid-for solutions - SFXOrgData , Salesforce Partial Data Sandboxes - but if you've got a decent ETL tool you can build your own. There are a bunch of free ETL tools for Salesforce: JitterBit Data Loader is good for quick ad-hoc tasks but the free version makes it difficult to manage specific ETL projects or share projects with other users Pentaho Community Edition - an open source edition of the enterprise version Apatar was a free open source Salesforce ETL which still works but development seems to have stopped since 2011 TalenD Open Studio is an open source ETL tool For the task of copying data from live to a Sandbox, either Pentaho or TalenD Open Studio could be used, depending on preference. Here's a good comparison of the dif

SSRS multi-value parameters with less fail

SSRS supports multi-value parameters, which is nice, but there are a few issues with them. This is how I deal with them. Two of the problems with SSRS multi-value parameters are: You have to jump through a few hoops to get them to work with stored procedures The (Select All) option, as shown above The reason the (Select All) option is a problem is that it is a really inelegant way of saying 'this parameter does not matter to me'. If you have a list with hundreds of values, passing all of them as a default option just seems wrong. Also, if your report shows the user which items they selected, printing the whole list when they choose (Select All) is excessive. So in this post I'm going to show my particular way of: Jumping through the hoops to get Multi-Value params in a stored procedure Adding a single '--All--' value that the report interprets as meaning all the options. Getting Multi-Value params to work with Stored Procedures This is

Remote Desktop on High DPI screens

Scott Hanselman wrote a nice blog post back in January about some of the issues you might face running Windows on a High DPI screen like that of a Surface Pro or Lenova Yoga. I'm kindof mystified that he didn't mention Remote Desktop though because thats been the number one problem for me on High DPI screens. That said, if you remote into very recent Server OS's like Windows Server 2012 R2, then apparently Remote Desktop will sort out the DPI scaling automatically. Perhaps Scott hadn't noticed the Remote Desktop issue because he only remotes into Server 2012 R2. Certainly if I was Scott, I wouldn't remote into anything less than that. But, in practice, I regularly have to remote into Server 2008 machines and yes even Server 2003. If you do that from a high DPI screen, the remote desktop is rendered at regular pixel size, which makes everything tiny. Its hard to show screenshots of High DPI screens that correctly convey the pixel size, so I've photoshoppe