Hack NY

This weekend we took a train to participate in Hack NY at Colombia University in New York. Colombia University as a pretty cool campus. The way we arrived, we came up onto the street from the subway and walked a few blocks to get there. It almost feels like their campus is out of place in the city. As you round a corner, the buildings suddenly change from tall modern office buildings to beautiful old stone ones. There is also a significant change from the crowded New York City streets to this wide open and spacious campus.

We ended up arriving about two hours late to the hackathon because our Amtrak train lost one of it's engines and spend the remaining half of the trip limping along at about twenty miles per hour.

Check out this badass lion statue.
When we got there we were all starving. It was around 2:00pm but there was still some leftovers from lunch. That was some of the best, cold, New York style thin-crust pizza that I've ever had. After that we took a walk around to some of the sponsor tables (mostly to collect free t-shirts).

Afterward, we found a place to set up in a classroom and started to plan our project. One of the prizes that was being offered would be awarded to the team that created the best project that used technology to help startups in Harlem. We came up with an idea to use open data from the city of New York to try to map out the best areas to create a startup. Some of the data that was available included information like bus stops and other public transportation areas. We also evaluated different crime hotspots.

Our project ended coming together in the form of a heatmap that rendered itself based on the information we were able to gather from the open data sets. We used a python web framework called Flask and MongoDB to build a restful API for our heatmap to pull data from.
After reformatting some of the NYC data to use the GeoJSON format, we were able to load it into our database and use MongoDB's built in geospatial indexing functionality. It was really quite interesting to see how MongoDB handles queries using geometric parameters.

A steady fuel of sugar and caffeine kept us working through the night.
I also tested out a few mapping API services such as Google Maps, OpenStreetMap and Leaflet. Leaflet's JavaScript seemed to provide the most comprehensive way to interact with maps so we went with that one for rendering the heatmap. I set up a MapBox account to use with Leaflet and created a map in which coordinates of various locations in our database were displayed as translucent circles to create a heatmap effect. Leaflet also supports map pins so I set those up to display the names for each tech company that already exists in the Harlem area.

Altogether this was one of the best hackathons that I have been to so far. Working on this project was really enjoyable and I'm extremely proud of what our team came up with. Great work everyone!

If anyone is interested, here are a few more pictures of the Columbia University area. Again, I thought this was a really cool campus to visit, mainly because I am a huge fan of interesting-looking brick buildings.

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention this. We did end up winning a prize. We were each shipped a box of stuff (a mug, stickers, t-shirt, etc.) from MongoDB for the best use of their geo-spacial indexing!


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