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Hack+Taiwan

The World Creativity and Innovation week (WCIW) goes on every year April 15-21 (set to coincide with Leonardo da Vinci’s birthday). This year we were making some events in Taiwan as well, first about creativity: Create @ Public, and another one a week later for innovation: Hack+Taiwan, a hackathon.

Of the two events, this one was the trickier to do. For Create@Public, all I had to do is pack a lot of stationery and start making stuff myself. For a hackathon, there’s much more preparation to do. Fortunately, I had some great mentors to get things going, James of Startup Digest Taipei and Volker from Yushan Ventures. They have a lot of experience pulling off great events, and I was glad to hear their advice. I was surprised that in less than 2 weeks something like this could be put together, even under not totally favorable circumstances.

First had to find a place to host it, and preferably with zero budget. Looking at who do I know, ended up at appWorks, a startup accelerator, whose founder, Jamie is indeed a hacker at heart, so wasn’t actually that bad to convince him to give us some space on a weekend day. Even got one of their teams working there, Fandora, to help us.

That’s a good first step, now have to get some people to participate. I set up the Hack+Taiwan blog (on Octopress, just trying something new, that was an “interesting” experience as well), the event, a sign up sheet and started to spread the word. It all went well, until one week before the event it turned out that the Open Source Developers’ Conference has a hackathon pretty much the same day & time as I planned. That freaked me out a little, and after asking around, I got many different advice: cancel so not to compete with them, cancel to take a rest, and give it my best try nonetheless. Of course the craziest option won, so started to spread the word even more, trying to invite mentors, getting catering, figuring out how the day should work and so on.

Let’s get to it

Since people don’t like to fill out sign up sheets, and Facebook event “join” is so easy, I had absolutely no idea how many people will come. It was just winging it, I knew I’ll be there and a couple of people who were helping me, but that’s all so far.

Hack+Taiwan logo posted on the day
Hack+Taiwan logo

I ordered breakfast for 30 (from Magic Bagels), and let’s see what happens. Around 9am, the advertised start time, people started to come, first a couple, then some more, and around 10 o’clock there were almost a dozen people. That’s not bad at all, even considering that a third of that was mentors and other organizers, but they took part just the same. Since most people didn’t bring any ideas (some even didn’t bring a laptop, now that I don’t understand), had to get them to come up with some stuff on the spot. It took a little pushing, some ideas were so specific and pretty much the same they are working on their normal time, but fortunately there were some interesting ones. In about half an hour we had 3 teams working on three completely different. In the afternoon there were even more people who dropped by for some time, and got another project working.

Arduino hacking
Making an Arduino piano

The projects we had:

  • Mobile reminder app + website
  • Android programming (the team had to leave before demo time)
  • Visualization of the Taiwanese power grid for monitoring and supervision
  • Arduino piano
These are all very different, and fortunately all was pushing the participants a little bit. The first team was mostly mentors, or from different startups working at appWorks, and they haven’t worked together before. It’s a good way to improve collaboration. The second team wanted to try Android out, maybe I should have talked to them more (having done one app at my time), otherwise they looked pretty lost for most of the time, hope they will carry on. The third team I gave some advice, but not sure if that actually took them on a sidetrack, it should be a very useful project if done, and has a lot of potential apparently for the local utilities companies. The last one, a one person team, was making some really cool stuff in a very short time and even with broken and sparse equipment. Not sure if she was really challenged by the task, it looked quite effortless.

At 5:30pm we had a demo time, everyone showing off what they made, people switched to speaking Chinese since I was the only foreigner around, so I got to train a little better next time to be able to follow tings. I could see their demos, though, and it’s so impressive how far people got in pretty much 6 and half hours….

Here’s the photo album of what went down. I’ve also taken a timelapse image series of the event, been planning to make a video of it….and then successfully overwritten all the photos with a bad command of ffmpeg. That’s my way.

Lessons learned

  • Coming up with ideas is hard
  • It is still possible to come up with ideas. Look for issues that kept bugging you for a while, and do something about those
  • Everyone gets out different thing from these events
  • Don’t force things, everything will work out anyway
  • Don’t have to overplan, before one establishes their name in the community as good organizer, it is usually more likely to overestimate how many people will come to an event
  • Everyone loves bagels and cake (okay, that’s not new lesson)
  • Unless there are enough people, don’t have to focus the topic of a hackathon, see whatever people come up with. More difficult brainstorming, but better chances of success
  • Don’t drink too much coffee – I couldn’t get much done from the shakes

I really liked the feedback I had from the participants, and also from other people: there were some who were just working in the background on their own stuff, and when we finished they came and asked what was it, because they’d like to take part next time. That’s the spirit! And we might just do that, for example at the end of the summer. In the meantime, I will try to focus on earning back my own hacker badge.

Create @ Public

I can hardly believe that it is only about 3 weeks ago, that I first heard about the World Creativity and Innovation Week (WCIW). My friend, Dao Wen (creator and maintainer of the Playtivity 玩 . 創意 blog, where I’m an occasional contributor as well) was telling me about it. Every year, April 15-21, celebrate creativity, timed to coincide with Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci‘s birthday. She was telling me that even if there’s a short time left (less than 2 weeks at that time) and that she cannot be in Taiwan this time, would like to see if I can help her to set up some activities for that week. Anything’s good, she said. Well, I like creative things so I’m a sucker for this kind of challenges. Quicker than you can say “Leonardo” I was hooked, even if I had no idea what to do, who to do it with, or generally anything.

Of course, these days every project starts with setting up a Facebook page, maybe even a G+ Page, and only then start thinking what to do. Talking to a few people, brainstorming, and generally digging up ideas that I wanted to do for a long time, came up with two ideas: one for creativity and one for innovation.

The idea

Reading about what other people did around the world, one pattern came up: everyone is creative, just not everyone knows it. Some people have to be pushed a little, or more optimistically, have to be given an opportunity when they can try something without the risk of getting hurt trying. I’m not saying “without risk of failure”, because it’s always there, but just because something doesn’t work out, it is usually not bad – and that can be part of the message.

Thinking more about the most creative people I know, I remembered Hunter, from whom I always learn new things how to just let it go and make new stuff. Anything goes. He and another friend of mine, Reuben are running Swings Tampa Bay, where they make and hang up swings everywhere around town and engage the people. So I thought, why couldn’t we combine these: go to public and make stuff! Here you go, Create@Public.

Our logo hanging on the tree
Create @ Public logo

The event

Basically one fine Sunday Morning of 2012 April 15, headed out to a park downtown, with a big bag of stationery: paper, crayons, pens, pencils, glue, paperclip, patterned sheets, origami instructions, chalks, other stuff I don’t remember. It was a big bag. Found a nice place, sat down and started to do everything come to our mind.

Cobble stone Scrabble, making a model of the National Taiwan Museum just next to us, drawings, idea wall, collaborative story writing, chatting with passers by, and all kinds of other stuff…. It was such a good feeling for about 5 hours I could totally turn off and try new stuff for the sake of it. I could actually head out there and do this more often than once a year, and maybe will do that…

Group of people in the park, making stuff
People at the event, in the middle of it

Here’s our photo album where you can see all the things that happened.

Also, for the first time, here’s our collaborative story: everyone writes one sentence, then passes it on to another person, and so on. All original with misspelling and that.

The bear was running in the forest. It’s running from a hunter chasing after it. The hunter is called TinYu who likes to eat bear. TinYu is a bad girl who likes to speak bad words, so the only thing she can do is hunting. Suddenly she stopped because she saw a lovely rabbit on the grass, which happens to be another of her favorite food. Same time, Minho (the boy) also is looking for chance to hunt that rabbit. As they both reaching the rabbit, they noticed each other and look into eyes. The boy is not a very handsome one, but exactly TinYu’s type…. Big kiss. When they open their eyes, they both were actually kissing the cheek of the bear, who is smiling now. 1 year pass, they decide to get marry in the forest. The witness is the bear. and Tin-Yu given birth to the child, the child looks like a bear – a cute Teddy bear. The most scary part is about to come…. she relize that it was dream after wake up. And the most horrible part is that: how come “she” dreams about “herself” being a girl named TingYu…? Actually, TingYu is a fictitious girl who is imagined by a sad, lonely and desolate boy named “Ray” who is currently dating a boy called Cliff… So this “bear dream” is it kinda of a self-consciousness that, Ray he wants to be a girl in the real life, so his underground relationship with Cliff can be accepted by the public, and they can get married, have a lovely baby afterwards, happily life afterwards. THE END#

Probably you can guess the names of a few of the people there that day… :)

Chatting with others also had interesting consequence. There was this guy, who came by and started to tell us how the Taiwanese language and English are quite similar, so many expressions have the same pronunciation. Actually, he was twisting things around quite a bit, but apparently it is very funny if you understand Taiwanese. Which I barely do, but it was good enough. One of the guys there took a video of it, and put it up on Youtube:

Apparently it got quite popular on the student message boards, and in a day or two it was up to 20.000 views, and several friends were messaging me, whether it is me in it. Not bad, feature in a viral video – achievement unlocked! I also know the Taiwanese TV channels – they quite often just go on the message boards, pick out the latest popular videos, and present those as news. Didn’t have to wait for long:

Lessons learned

All in all, it was a fun event, and I’m really glad to have done it. Some things I’ve learned from this:

  • Activities which don’t need much preparation can still be very rewarding
  • Many people just freeze when presented with the opportunity of “make something, anything”, they don’t know how to start
  • On the other hand, once you do something yourself, those who are interested and just been watching, will take part and contribute cool things
  • It’s hard to engage the people in public
  • It’s easy to try to engage the people in public
  • Have to find some better way to spread the word than Facebook (this comes up every time, and I don’t have a solution), it is just too limited and too much noise/too little signal
  • I have to check my spelling, because it seems very bad
  • Just a mere couple of good people can turn an event from so-so to great

What’s next

Let’s see if we can do it another time, maybe another place. Also, there was the other event for the week, Hack+Taiwan, just being written up as well.