2012 hackNY DemoFest Program

We are looking forward to seeing you tonight, July 27, 2012 from 7 to 9pm at NYU Stern’s Paulson Auditorium (40 W 4th St.) for hackNY’s final DemoFest for the class of 2012 hackNY Fellows.

Tickets still available! Get yours here: http://hackNY2012.eventbrite.com/

See you soon,
Team hackNY

DemoFest Program

7:00pm: Opening Remarks

Evan Korth and Chris Wiggins, co-founders of hackNY

7:05 – 8:00pm: Demos

Skillshare Education Data Visualization
Jennifer Rubinovitz, Rutgers University ’13

Sean Hogan, University of Chicago ’13

Multiple Thrillist Projects and winning hack at Battle of Braces: PHP*
Gerard O’Neill, Rutgers University ’13

Fly-latex* and JSON Collapser*
Daniel Alabi, Carleton College ’14

Mr. Schemato and Heads Up! Hot Dogs*
Emmett Butler, New York University ’13

Oliver Song, MIT ’14

David Coss, New York University ’14

Sam Stern, University of Pennsylvania ’14

Seasonality Model
Sophie Chou, Columbia University ’14
Intent Media

Treasure Hunter*
Daniel Lobato Garcia, University of California Irvine ’13

Horse Raceping*
Daniel Saewitz (Syracuse University ’14) and Matt Wetmore (McGill ’14)
Art.sy and Boxee

Terence Nip, Syracuse University ’14

Vivek Patel, New York University ’13

MongoDB Sharding Visualization
Phillip Quiza, Rutgers University ’13

Emma Ziegellaub Eichler, Columbia University ’14

8:00 – 8:10pm: Break

8:10 – 8:50pm: Demos

Matt Wetmore, McGill University ’14

Racket Music*
Matt Bunday, University of Minnesota ’13

Jesse Pollak (Pomona College ’15) and Cheryl Wu (New York University ’15)
BuzzFeed and Sailthru

Jason Wright, Cornell University ’13

Varun Singh, Brown University ’13

Monster Mash Mobile
Michael Yang, Columbia University ’15

Bobby Wertman, Western Carolina University ’13

Spam @ bit.ly
Justin Hines, Columbia University ’13

Facebook Nanny*
Sean Gransee, Northwestern University ’14

A branch on Branch
Devon Peticolas, Rutgers University ’13

8:50pm: Concluding Remarks

*Independent Project

The 2012 hackNY DemoFest has been made possible by our generous sponsors. We would like to take this opportunity to thank our sponsors.
Gold Sponsors: Quotidian Ventures, New York Angels, Andreessen Horowitz, ff Venture Capital, IA Ventures
Silver Sponsors: Livestream, Phone.com, JOYRIDE COFFEE

Sincere thanks to the AWESOME NYC startups for hosting a class of 2012 hackNY Fellow and making the hackNY Fellows program a reality: 10gen, art.sy, birchbox, bit.ly, Boxee, Branch, BuzzFeed, Canvas, ChallengePost, Codecademy, Datadog, Intent Media, knodes, kollabora, Lifebooker, localresponse, meetup, nextjump, numberFire, Parse.ly, QLabs, Sailthru, secondmarket, Skillshare, SocialFlow, Thrillist, Trendrr, tumblr, venmo.

hackNY Summer Series: Mike Dewar

In this post 2012 hackNY Fellow Daniel Alabi describes the hackNY Summer Series lecture by Dr. Mike Dewar.

On June 12, Dr. Dewar, a data scientist at bit.ly with a PhD in systems engineering, talked to the hackNY Fellows on “Measuring Attention.” For those unfamiliar with the work bit.ly does, bit.ly is a url shortening service that’s very popular on micro-blogging sites like twitter. A first impression about bit.ly might be that bit.ly provides a url shortening and nothing more. But that would be too superficial a description, if not false.

Offline (and some online) surveys for research and analysis are usually conducted through the use of questionnaires, opinion polls, and manual observations. But the tedious and slow survey process of data collection can be scaled up,  sped up, and made more accurate by making and sharing bit.ly links. Did you know that bit.ly is collects detailed information –  necessary for rigorous analysis and accurate redirection – when a user clicks on a bit.ly link? The information bit.ly receives about the user includes location of the user, the IP address of the user’s computer, the probability that the user that clicks on the bit.ly link is not a robot (cool, right?), and other useful information about the user. You might ask: what does bit.ly do with all the information collected from users that click on bit.ly links? That’s where the data scientists at bit.ly come in. All the data that bit.ly collects every second – or every fraction of a second – is mined, analyzed, and visualized by scientists at bit.ly. This process is done by a team of data scientists at bit.ly or a subset of the team ( bit.ly has a 7-member data science team out of ~40 employees).

Dr. Dewar began his talk with an idea that he believes has revolutionized the way we mine and use data: the 4th paradigm of scientific discovery. The 4th paradigm was proposed by Jim Gray and described in the book “The Fourth Paradigm: Data-Intensive Scientific Discovery.” Gray predicted that scientific innovation will, in the future, be data driven. To support the idea of this paradigm, Dr. Dewar showed us a Venn diagram originally by Drew Conway that illuminates the relationship among Hacking Skills, Math & Stats Knowledge, and Substantive Expertise.

Dr. Dewar also noted that the task of “Measuring Attention” is two fold: Tracking Attention, and Being Responsible. The data collected from clicks on bit.ly links can be used to make histograms, line graphs, or “spike trains”, using the d3.js library or any other data visualization library, that are clear visual indicators of trends at a particular time, place, and in some given geographic region. For example, just before the Egyptian revolution, the State Security Intelligence Service of Egypt blocked Egyptian residents from accessing the Internet by shutting down a crucial data center in Cairo. Dr. Dewar showed us a plot of the Internet usage over time in Cairo before, during, and after the shut down in Egypt. The “spike train” graph had a deep and isolated valley immediately after the shut down. After Internet access was restored, the valley disappeared. Suppose we didn’t know about the shut down in Egypt, we can work backwards to investigate the circumstances behind such an abnormal point in our data set and eventually find out about the shut down. In other words, data science helps us investigate irregular occurrences. This is just a small glimpse into how visualization of data sets can yield interesting and sometimes crucial results. For more data visualization plots, check out Dr. Dewar’s github repository.

The plots data scientists make speak louder than words and can, and in fact are meant to,  be very convincing. As a result, data scientists are saddled with the responsibility of depicting information in the most accurate way possible without deceiving viewers. In addition, Dr. Dewar believes that the data that are made available to data scientists shouldn’t be exploited to siphon information for hideous means like for selling obtrusive ads.

Dr. Dewar’s a renowned data scientist (and really humble guy too).  It was a pleasure listening to him (and, of course asking him questions) and we hope to see him again.




A REAL Day in the Life of a hackNY Fellow

Preface: After our previous post “Day in the Life of a hackNY Fellow” we learned two things: the first was many people do not know a lot about the New York City startup community, and the second was that many people wanted to know more about what it is really like to be a hackNY Fellow. Here we discuss, in full seriousness, what it is really like to be a hackNY Fellow.

This blog will follow Jennifer Rubinovitz, a hackNY Fellow working as a front-end engineering intern at Skillshare, and Amy Quispe, a hackNY Fellow working on tumblr’s platform engineering team.

8:30: Wake time. Most of the hackNY fellows live in a dorm at NYU with a floor full of other hackNY Fellows really central to NYC, which is amazing. The morning people make breakfast and work on projects, the night people are crashing from working on their projects into the wee hours of the night. Pretty much everyone drinks coffee. Some days we get up earlier and go to yoga with other startup people.

9:30 : Walk to work.

10:00: We do a quick standup and get to work. We love the first ‘git pull’ of the day, when we get to see all of the things that changed since yesterday. CEO commits are our favorite.

12:00: Lucky for us our office is full of foodies and someone on the team is always going somewhere amazing for lunch and I tag along. On Fridays we always have lunch during the all-team. This is different everywhere, but something fun about working at a startup is seeing the team formation evolve, even over the short period of the summer.

3:00: Tweet about huge bug or a big fix and know Chris Wiggins is reading it. Actually, one of the ways that the fellows bond despite being at different places all day is through Twitter and Foursquare. We’d like to give a special shoutout to Terence, mayor of Palladium.

4:00: When we push code, we go through a code review process like anyone else. This is where a lot of the real learning happens.

6:00: Wrapping up if I do have a  hackNY event that night. Otherwise we’d keep going. Sometimes I wonder if I spend 5 hours a day on StackOverflow and IRC. We’re given a workload similar to a normal employee, so it never feels like we’ve gotten enough done.

6:30: Head over to a talk at a local New York startup or coworking space (e.g. Foursquare, Tumblr, Hunch, FogCreek, Etsy, 10gen, AOL Ventures, Betaworks, Union Square Ventures) or at NYU.

7:00-9:00: We eat dinner with the other hackNY Fellows, mentors, and staff (and the occasional onlocation employee who wants a free dinner) and listen to and learn from an amazing leader  in the New York startup scene.

9:00 We’re out. Sometimes we go out with other Fellows, or we head back to Palladium. Once a week, we have workshops taught by the other hackNY Fellows. We often end up working on cool projects together.

hackNY Summer Series: Joel Spolsky

In this post 2012 hackNY Fellow Jennifer Rubinovitz describes the hackNY Summer Series lecture by Joel Spolsky.

As a current Computer Science student who generally detests required general education courses, it caught me off guard when at a recent hackNY talk at Fog Creek, Joel Spolsky, co-founder of Stackexchange and founder of Fogcreek (www.joelonsoftware.com/), told us that a Cultural Anthropology class was one of the most important classes he ever took. “Anthropology is the academic study of humanity”, says old reliable Wikipedia. Cultural Anthropology is the study of how different people in different places represent their experiences differently. After hearing Joel talk about keeping anthropological ideas in mind to integrate features that would foster the culture he sought at Stack Exchange, I highly agree that knowledge of Cultural Anthropology is extremely helpful in building a community oriented startup.

Before founding Stack Exchange, Spolsky took a look around at the competition in the Q&A space. Looking at sites like Yahoo Answers, WikiAnswers, and Askville, he quickly realized that while these sites received large amounts of traffic, the users were 12 year old girls asking for homework help and about what to wear to prom. With StackExchange, Joel sought to create a community of experts. In retrospect, getting a bunch of experts together to generate free content for you is quite a feat. Joel used his knowledge of anthropology in their product to repel outsiders and attract experts in their chosen field by carefully curating their first impression along with features that promote their chosen voting, government, and law.

This harkens back to the beginning of email, where the tiniest product decision caused radically different discussions. Joel cited Usenet as an example. At the time, storage was expensive, so emails were only stored on the receiver’s computer. Usenet made the decision to have the email the sender is responding to quoted in their message. The culture of Usenet changed as a result: Usenet users would often respond paragraph by paragraph to their sender and have relatively sophisticated discussions.

If you’re a hacker, you probably will not come to this realization looking at StackOverflow, but look at another StackExchange outside of your area of expertise (Joel showed us the Judaism StackExchange) you will quickly learn that every StackExchange takes careful measures in their product to repel outsiders and attract experts in their chosen field by carefully curating their first impression. I sadly do not know many people, be it 12 year old girls or classmates, who have an interest in RC4 Keylength Limits (http://crypto.stackexchange.com/questions/3137/rc4-keylength-limits) or  JSONP and Doctype Errors (http://stackoverflow.com/questions/11447814/jsonp-and-doctype-errors).

StackExchange uses laws, government, and voting to keep the content quality high. I do not know of anyone who has actually read the rules of StackExchange (is there even a page of them?), but StackExchange simply rewards behaviors they appreciate with points and badges to positively reinforce behavior that contributes positively to the culture of expert discussions they desire. Spolsky explained the government structure of StackExchange: StackExchanges have “meta” websites where the site itself is discussed using the Q&A approach of StackExchange. Moderators are voted on during elections and get their own chatrooms.  At the time of its implementation on StackExchange, voting as a form of self-moderation was incredibly new, and even today it helps user sort through posts and helps keep the content at a high quality.

So many startups today are powered by user content, but many founders underestimate the amount of curation of said content they must do through the product itself. Whereas hiring an expert can cost thousands of dollars,  Joel Spolsky and his cofounder Jeff Attwood (www.codinghorror.com/) (who kept trying to Skype Spolsky during the talk much to our geeky pleasure) were able to create a community where questions are answered by experts for free within seconds of posting. When you decide the type of user you want on your site, you should really put thought into the features of the site that will keep and maintain the ideal user, and repel the unwanted user.

TLDR; Use the product to facilitate a community that your desired users want to join.

hackNY Summer Series: Chris Poole (a.k.a. moot)

In this post 2012 hackNY Fellow Emmett Butler describes the hackNY Summer Series lecture by Chris Poole (a.k.a moot).

Revealing oneself as a 4channer, one of the nicer names for a frequenter of 4chan.org, a popular anonymous message board, is a dangerous thing. If it happens in person, one is apt to get either confused looks or nervous laughter and a quick change-of-subject in response. If it happens online, one is often labeled one of the less-pleasant names for a 4channer and judged accordingly. People tend to think that 4chan is a hive of reprehensible behavior enabled by total anonymity – and they’re not entirely wrong. Sections of the site are frequented by “anons” posting shock images, as well as the crowd-mixed beginnings of some of the internet’s most enduring memes. As such, it’s a bit of a leap of faith to assume that the internet won’t judge me after I admit that I’m a longtime 4chan resident.

I can’t remember exactly which reddit link it was that pointed me to 4chan for the first time, but I do recall a moment of guilty-pleasure giddiness after realizing that 4chan was a part of the internet where I “wasn’t supposed to be”. Prior to that time, I’d heard of 4chan only tangentially (often in hushed voices), and mostly as a site onto which only the bravest of internetters would dare to surf. I was duly shocked by some of the content on /b/, the site’s most infamous message board, on which the only rule is “don’t break the law” (often broken). But beyond the thrill of using a site that popular culture deems off-limits, I was interested in the social constructions that had apparently arisen within a group of strictly-anonymous users.

4chan is ephemeral and anonymous, which means that no user’s name is known unless they choose to show it (a very rare occurrence) and posts are not saved longer than a few hours. These are often cited as the reasons for, to put it lightly, the site’s lack of family-friendly content. I’ve never been fully behind the idea that anonymity and ephemerality breed bad behavior, and last Wednesday when I had the chance to hear a talk by the site’s founder Chris Poole, I found myself even more convinced.

What I found most interesting about Chris’ talk were the insights he provided into the social dynamic of 4chan. He explained that when he was growing up online (admittedly only a few years before most hackNYers), the process of “finding one’s tribe” on the internet was a much more difficult undertaking than it is today. Before search, in the early days of message board communities, locating a group of people online who shared some of your interest was a painstaking process that involved a lot of manual link-clicking and personal investment. Chris contends that today, given the prevalence of both powerful search and communities that actively foster a “single self” online, the thrill of managing to finally find one’s own “tribe” on the web has become harder to find.

This apparent ease with which users can find communities is something that, according to Chris, has arisen in part due to the deliberate streamlining of user experience by companies that attempt to reduce as many barriers to entry for their app as possible. It’s common practice today to provide an app that offers the boilerplate signup/profile creation form, allows one to import their friends from Twitter/Facebook, and get started immediately experiencing the app to the fullest. This strategy, Poole suggests, leads users to feel less a part of a community and more a user of a service – a key difference between huge-scale apps like Twitter/Facebook and interest-based communities like 4chan, reddit, and digg.

Interestingly, while modern consumer web apps attempt to remove all barriers to entry, 4chan’s userbase has organically created its own, in the form of a prevalent cryptic slang and the use of shock content to keep newcomers out until they’ve become acclimated to the culture. It’s my belief that this process has actually been aided by the site’s total anonymity: users have felt the need to erect structure where none existed.

Chris’ talk was interesting on many levels beyond the social implications of the system he’s created, but these were the points that resonated most strongly with me. From a social anthropology perspective, I’ve been interested in 4chan for a while now – and no, I’m not afraid to admit it.