Sunday, August 3, 2014

Y Combinator Hackathon

I was pretty excited about the Y Combinator hackathon. I really enjoy hackathons because you can just throw on your headphones and hack and not worry about anything. They serve you food and energy drinks and coffee and whatever you need.

It was an interesting hackathon because one had to apply and be accepted to be able to attend. I originally applied as a joke when I was drunk one night looking for hackathons in the Bay Area. I totally forgot about it until I received an email that said I was accepted and decided why not go? Free food and stuff. I later found out that this thing was kind of important and people attended from all over the world. Winners or top three or something receive a Y Combinator interview. If you don't know what Y Combinator is

It was a funny hackathon because I knew a month in advance or so. I planned out my hack but could have just done it at home (what I ended up doing but more on that later). The only rule was that you could not create code before the hackathon started but you could use Open Source code. What is the coolest Open Source code? DNA. I figured I would make something that utilized some genetic engineering.

My goal for the hackathon was simple enough to create something like this: except automate it so someone can turn it on and off with a switch or it would turn on automatically when light became low. The funny thing is that there was more prep work then actual work. I guess I did not anticipate it being so simple and working out so easy.

Prep Work

I acquired some pJE202 plasmid and transformed it into DH10B and BL21 E. coli cells. Both the lifetime of bioluminescence and brightness on plates was markedly different. BL21 was much brighter and lasts much longer. As it should, BL21 is a protein expression strain and deficient in some proteases.

Next, I tested different medias. Initially I did not see any bioluminescence as I was using SOC, SOB and the likes. However, it worked fine in LB. Growing at RT gives it some nice glow. Interestingly, if the temperature ever reaches above ~30C the bacteria stop luminescing (My apartment sometimes warms up during the day!). I read some stuff online about how people tried glycerol and CaCl3 and that increased the light output. CaCl3 definitely decreased it but glycerol increased it slightly. However, Sucrose.Glucose addition worked best. Both visually and quantitatively (measuring luminescence using a plate reader).

I started up cultures on Friday morning and Friday night for the hackathon on Saturday.


Registration started at 10AM but the hackathon did not start till 12PM. I ate a bagel and talked to the Pebble watch people. They were selling watches for $75 and I was thinking of buying one but the watches do absolutely _nothing_. I was mostly intrigued that the API was in C. They connect to your phone, sure, but they have 1990 cellphone menus, 4 buttons and an accelerometer. and the accelerometer was the best part. Unfortunately, I can build things with an accelerometer myself so the device was kind of pointless to me. If it actually had an operating system it might have been cool.

The world is moving towards small portable devices, whether you like it or not. Not many people still have desktop computers(I have two) but as the devices are slimmed down and capacity and speed increases. It seems inevitable that whole operating system are going to be written in things that are web compatible. Everything is written in Java(script), Python and such and I think that is only going to become more pronounced. Which unfortunately means I probably need to invest sometime to learn these languages better. I can functionally code in them but not anything complicated.

Y Combinator has two buildings and I was told that all hardware people should goto the extension building across the street and not the main building. As far as I could tell I was one of or the only person physically hacking hardware. Everyone was about 18 years old or younger. Some of these people had to be under 16 years of age. That's not an issue I guess but the hackathon ideas were soooo how does one say??? Immature? I guess my idea wasn't the best. A lamp that can be turned on and off but illuminates by bioluminescent bacteria?

Here are some of the ideas people had from the YCHacks facebook page:
A Start-Up Founder Support Network for Depressed Start-Up Founders
Transforming The Retail Boutique Space
A web application where people can post stories and receive upvotes from the community where each upvote is a bitcoin tip
One centralized place to keep track of all the places you have your addresses/credit cards stored.
A calendar app that negotiates meeting times with other people automatically

I knew this was not my scene from seeing these ideas. People say things like "Front-End Developer" and "Back-End Developer" and I don't even know what these things mean. Seriously. Well I just looked them up and they mean "programmer", hahaha. Some guy at the hackathon asked me if I did "Front-End" and I didn't know. Now I know. Yes, I do "Front-End" and "Back-End" and Side-End. Are there seriously people who do "Front-End" and don't know how to do "Back-End" so that the two need to be separated?

There were no chairs.
Y Combinator has picnic benches and they were filling up fast, people brought fucking giant computer monitors.... I am talking 28 inch. I found a spot but the window was directly behind me and the California sun was producing some brutal glare on my laptop so I decided to go sit on the floor somewhere. At least then I could lean back against the wall. I am more of a sloucher then a huncher when I spend all day at my puter so it was better any way.

So I busted out all my stuff on the floor and started hacking. Trying to work with a solderless breadboard and electronic components and an Arduino and a laptop is pretty annoying on a floor. Not to mention a group 7 or 8 people decided to congregate next to me so that no one could pass by without stepping.tripping over me and my stuff. There was plenty of other places to stand, just the typical California unawareness of surroundings. My goal was just to use an Arduino to control a pump through a MOSFET and use a light sensitive resistor to activate it all. The way the night light or lamp would work is that when the light in your house or apartment decreased it would activate the pump and start giving the culture oxygen which would cause it to luminescence.

They didn't have red bull. Fortunately, I predicted this and brought my own red bull hah. Everyone was drinking coca cola for caffeine.

It was loud. Did I mention it was loud. At ~3PM, 3 hours after starting no one was really working people were talking. I had my headphones in but still the background decibels was _loud_. You know the coding zone? When you throw on some chillstep or trance or whatever music you like and just work. I just couldn't do it. It was that loud. I was seriously starting to be really annoyed. It was hard to focus and concentrate. I am not a big extroverted person even though some people would think otherwise. I like to be holed up alone and in a quiet environment. I am sensitive to noise and light. If there is a faucet dripping in the other room it freaks me out. So yeah, I was not enjoying myself.

The internet was slow. I guess that is what happens when your network was not prepared for a couple hundred people to use it. Finding the technical documents for the MOSFETs I had, took forever, because they were all 900KB PDFs, hahaha.

Then a group of guys sat down next to me and started to play music on one of their laptops. I also about finished up the hardware part of my hack and need to test it on the actual cultures. I didn't bring them with because they are temperature sensitive and such.

I was not enjoying myself. Other people seemed to be enjoying themselves just fine it just was not the ideal environment for me to hack. It's weird because I would imagine most "hackers" are like myself. But I guess they come in different types. Maybe the introverted, loner stereotype is not true anymore?

So I decided to go home. I figured I could have my own "hack day" at home and would enjoy myself much more and I had more red bull at home.

I appreciate the opportunity to goto the hackathon. It was not my thing. I don't know if I would try it again. I goto hackathons for fun. I am not trying to start a company or find investors. I just want to make something kind of cool.

I hacked till about 11PM. I fixed and finished up my KGloves so the mouse function works. Now they control a keyboard and mouse really well. I also finished up my Y Combinator hack.

Here is a video of it. Sadly, my camera was not working well in the dim light. The glow is actually fairly bright and looks super cool. Sadly, most of my cultures warmed up overnight and now are not glowing much anymore! I will try and grow up and new batch and see if I can make a better video. But for now check this out, when I turn off the light it activates the sensor and the pump, which feeds oxygen to the bacteria and they glow.