2011 - A Year in Recap
Another year in closing, another one of those fantastic yearly recaps that I have the joy of writing. If I had these printed, why I could almost hear the sweet crumple crumple as people turn my riveting tales of adventure into a jump shot.
First off, before I begin my long ramble I would like to thank those of you who have made it thus far and a pre-emptive thanks for those of you who make it to the end. Hopefully you will enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it =]. As much as this is a recollection of my own triumphs and adventures, I must remind the readers ( and often times myself ) that many of those same triumphs and adventures never would have happened without the unyielding support and talent of my friends and family.
And so it begins!
Creating a Hack-a-thon Dynasty
A taste of what sort of monsters haunt you on caffeine fueled deliriums.
Many may know of my friend and
lover roommate David Vanoni with whom I share many victories. Over the past couples years we have taken home the grand prize in countless, innumerable events. I can’t even begin to recount the 2-3 things we’ve won over the years.
This year was no different. I wager it was perhaps even slightly crazier than years past.
For those of you who don’t know, Yahoo! holds a yearly 24 hour hack-a-thon where they invite students from all over the UCSD campus to think up an idea, implement the idea, and present the idea in the span of 24 hours. Pretty snazzy, n’est pas?
David and I have lead 2 winning teams in the past. The first created a music search engine based on lyrics. A few of you oldies may remember that, so I’ll give you a moment to sigh in nostalgic remembrance. The second created an iPhone app that took into consideration your location and music tastes and found nearby concerts/shows/events that you’d enjoy seeing. This year we decided to pull out all the stops and set the bar so high and unreachable that years later they will erect statues and hold parades for our efforts.
What’s In Your Fridge?
Honestly now, could anyone really remember exactly what they have in their fridge at any given moment? Our idea aimed to solve that through SCIENCE. We would have sensors talking to a server so that you’d be able to use your iPhone or computer to check what was in your fridge. While you’re there you could find some recipes based on what you had and even connect up your friend’s fridge to coordinate meals together. The original idea was the brainchild of the lovely Leilani Gilpin. She had presented the idea in a class of hers earlier in the quarter and I loved it. To me it had all the components of a grand idea: it was relatively simple and solved a major problem that everyone encounters.
The Fab Four
Our team this year had the lovely addition of Lynn and Leilani along with David and I. We had all worked together on projects in the past and have been friends for millennia. Needless to say our group formed a formidable force of brain power and technological prowess. David lead the hardware side with an initial prototype created by me involving an Arduino, WiFly board, and pressure sensors. The sensors turned out to be not as accurate and precise as we had originally wanted, but David was able to work around that and have the sensors talking to our server ( which was also setup by him ). During most of the 24 hours I worked intently on the client side creating interface mockups and writing the code necessary to get it all running. Lynn and Leilani also helped out on the client side and worked on the recipe search and friend collaboration code.
Our application at a glance
Without getting into the nitty gritty details of how everything was created and my eventual delirium and subsequent caffeine binges, our hack came out incredibly well-done. We had a couple weak spots, such as requiring a strong WiFi signal or the pressure sensors being a little spazzy, but in the end we were all happy with the product we created and nothing could rain on our parade.
The competition this year was intense with several other well-done ideas and fun implementations. We were all delirious from lack of sleep.
Third place was announced.
Me: You know guys, we should be happy that we did what we did in the time we had.
Second place was announced.
Me: I wonder which team won this year. A lot of great contenders, not sure we’re up to snuff this year honestly.
First place announced. It was us!
Me: BOO-YAH! SUCKERS! Wooooo. High-five guys. We did it!
A couple people have already asked whether David and I will taking another team to dominance next year. All I can say is that if we were to come back, we’ll be taking home the national title next year as well.
Where we’re going, we don’t need roads
One year ago, if you had told me that next summer I would be riding horses, pushing trucks through mud, and become the MVP of an NatGeo vs Mongolia soccer match I’d have a hard time believing you. Heck, I still have a hard time believing I did any of the stuff I did on that expedition.
The Path Less Taken
I’m still not quite sure how much I’m allowed to divulge about our findings so I’ll keep this short and sweet.
I was involved in a National Geographic Expedition to Mongolia with the aim of uncovering the Tomb of Genghis Khan. I and a large group of scientists ranging from electrical engineers, to geophysicists, to historians and archaeologists traveled for days across hard terrain, torrential downpour, and run-ins with friendly and not-so-friendly natives.
We spent a solid 3-4 weeks at our archaeological site doing some intense work. Roughly a month or two worth of work was finished in that small span of time by multi-tasking, parallelization, and just sheer will. If you were sitting still then you were doing something wrong. As a fine-tuned, well-oiled machine our work went from sun up til sun down and completely drained us. Even with those hardships, I consider those times were one of the best I have ever experienced. One moment we could be setting up to do some geophysics and the next we’d be scrambling to get equipment under cover as rain begins to pour down on us. Mosquitos devoured us and laughed at our puny bug sprays. Rushing up a mountain on horse back and then back down again because of the threat of lightning. Incredible moments just seemed to cease.
A Day of Games
A couple days of our expedition was spent next a nice large river in which we could bathe and relax after 4 weeks of intense work. Here we also had horse races, foot races, and a soccer match pitting the scientists/engineers and the mongolians against each other in feats of skill and athleticism.
This is when we decided it was a good time to stop.
The backdrop for our soccer game was a seemingly never-ending field of lush green grass contrasted by a slow moving thunderhead sweeping visible torrents of rain and lightning towards us as we played. I had scored an early goal much to the delight of my European comrades and assisted several attacks which lead to another goal by our NatGeo photographer. At the end of the first half the mongolians scored a goal and I swapped with the goalie after a light ankle sprain on my dominant foot left much to be desired in my kicking ability. After many spectacular saves, a slide tackle, and fruitless attacks by both sides, the second half ended as the thunderhead finally came close. Victory was ours, a close 2-1, but a victory nonetheless. All of us then joined together to rain-proof our gers and dig in for the storm to come.
The Korean Paradise
It’s not often ( or ever really ) that one refers to an airport as paradise, but the South Korean airport deserves a special mention. It has free, public showers. Cheap beers. And a store where you can paint your own paper fans. Paper fans man. Paint them for free. Need I say more?
After 4 weeks of rolling around in dirt, trudging through mud, and a little something I like to call 20 men, 1 outhouse the expedition members were all ready for a nice scrub down, a cold beer, and most of all – a nap.
I don’t want this to become too long so I’ll leave it at that. I have many more tales to tell, some funny, some not-so-much and all end on good note. So for those of you who know the story, know that I left my mark on a Mongolian park bench. For those who don’t, buy me a beer and I promise I will regale you with tales of adventure, horror, and laughter.
From the Plains of Mongolia to the Urban Jungles of New York
New York, New York. The Big Apple. I’ll never forget the moment I landed in JFK after gazing down at the city lights below. People abuzz on their phones calling their mothers, friends, bookies and the charming hustle and bustle as everyone forced their way out of the aircraft at the exact same moment.
We made it big! After our victories last and this year at the Yahoo! Hacks the winning teams flew to New York to participate in a global version of the event. People from all across the globe ( including Brazil, India, and more ) flew in, creating a total of 19 world-class groups of tremendous skill and talent. Again our goals were the same – come up with an idea, implement the idea, and present the idea. All within 24 hours.
The Fab Five
We were the combination of two winning teams since Yahoo! was not able to hold a global event last year. It was I, David, Leilani, Lynn, and Matthew. A battalion of the brilliant, a calvary of the capable, a legion of the learned, a tour-de-force of talent. We are the Fab Five.
Rocking Your World
Our idea stemmed from ruminations I’ve had with a Professor at UCSD who specializes in machine learning, more specifically the automatic annotation and understanding of music. We had bounced around the concept of using a user’s actual location as a way to recommend music. Since humans are very habitual and there tends to be a correlation between the type of music we listen and where we actually are at the moment, we believed using location or activity based inputs could form improved recommendations. The team and I developed this idea over the course of the 24 hours keying in on certain activities a normal person might do in the span of a day. Hitting the gym, studying at the library, walking in the park, en route to a party – all of these could be boiled down to a handful of inputs readily available on your phone.
We went to work building this monstrosity. My usual caffeine binges, delirium and inhuman focus set in on creating a masterpiece. We wanted to win and we wanted it bad.
After approximately 24 plus hours we called it quits and took a nap for 4 hours. We then spent the night celebrating our near win to dawn.
Drinks, Sushi, and then more Drinks
New York is probably the finest city in the world in terms of culinary prowess. World famous chefs and restaurants create a delicious environment for our taste buds to inhabit and our short stint in New York was no exception.
Matt and I share a mutual taste in what I like to call, Damn Good Food. Food that our taste buds will look back on and tell their grandchildren about. The problem with the majority of Damn Good Food is that it is Damn Expensive. However, I am willing shell out the money when it comes to fine dining and we spared no expense. Steaks, sushi, sandwiches, and even the wine. All of it absolutely divine.
A mere 4 hours after the hack event had ended we ( David, Matt and I ) made our way over to Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles. There I would savour and reminisce about the perfect slice of beef ever to be laid in front of me. Every cut as smooth and silky as a cut of butter, every bite an explosion of flavor and wonderful juices. We all shared tears of happiness and pure joy.
Once again thank you for making thus far. I hope you enjoyed the journey as I much as I did creating it.