Highlights from Govhack Ballarat

By — Wed, 15 Jul 2015

From the 3rd to the 5th of July, Ballarat hackerspace participated in the 2015 Govhack, held for the second time in Ballarat at the Technology park.

We had a lot of fun, here is our writeup!

Govhack is a shortened version of the term Government Hackathon. Although it sounds controversial implying that privacy and data is at risk, it can mean the opposite in some cases. Developers and designers get together, looking through Application Programming Interfaces (API) which have been given public use in the hope of utilising what may be available internally for new and innovative purposes. The term of hacking here is not of the scary "we have your files ransom" hacker kind, instead an open "lets see what interesting things can be made". With a group called Ballarat Hackerspace, we understand this all too well!

We plotted our weekend to be low on sleep, and high in wrangling new code between each other.

The event took place over 46 hours, Beginning late Friday and concluding Masterchef style at 5pm Sunday.

Friday consisted of pouring over the datasets available to us. For people interested in listening in or have not developed code, this is an excellent part to be a fly on the wall listening to the teams (or help contribute!). For our team, we looked over what was promising and within our skillset to work with while still pushing innovative new ideas. A few ideas stuck, including:

A disaster volunteer alert system emergencies
Visualizing the 10 Minute City plan from Ballarat City council
Use of the World War one deaths registry to visualise it's impact in modern terms

It became hard to pick just one idea, as we fleshed out more and more fun parts to make for each of them. We decided that we had enough people present to share our skills in two groups, and went with the first two ideas.

The two teams for Ballarat Hackerspace:

Alpha: Matt Weston, Scott Weston, Ian Firns, Brett James
Beta: Josh Stewart, Robert Layton, Brett James

Work begun on each project Saturday morning, with a large desk holding us all in place for the next two days. Frameworks were developed, Data crunched over coffee and food. The time spent the night before helped us focus where code was needed, giving us insight for what would help in the user interface. An API was made early on to help work with front end processing, given new ideas and ways to present it in a friendly way.

For anyone reading this thinking of next year? Don't forget about your video! It is the second most important part of your project, and your chance to get on your soapbox and tell the world what you learned with your chosen datasets or projects. It can be easy to forget about, as editing a video can be an art in itself. It involves telling the audience what you've done, showing and inspiring them. Govhack have been wise in saying that you need to spend most of Sunday in doing this, and it is not something to take lightly - You will likely be tired after a long weekend of collaboration and hacking data.

The projects have been submitted, and we will hear results of them after the judges labor through each project. A nice surprise was the Spirit of Govhack award. Given to those that show the best "hacker" ethos. For Ballarat, This was split between two people.

The first being a duo team called Rstar Team - Ye Tian and Wenyan Ren. In Australia for less than a year, with Wenyan 7 Months in with their first child - congratulations and strong dedication to participate!

The second winner for the Spirit of Govhack Ballarat award was given to Brett James, who provided an extensive photo journal of the event including team photos which were used for their entries - well done!

Previous years have had a specific theme in mind given to us. "Beautiful Data" gave us the idea of representing rainfall data by using 3D printed raindrops with relative sizing to give you an idea of how each suburb compared at a glance. This kind of "hands on" way of representing data gives rise to Business presenters - letting them know that the bar chart in a presentation will not be engaging for future pitches by itself.

It feels like the theme for this year was "Data War". Geelong Council had seen the results from last year's Ballarat Govhack, entering themselves with a staggering 78 Datasets available. The results are positive, giving many options available in parsing and working through the raw data.

Many thanks are in place for George Fong and Matt Morris for organising the event and making sure the participants are fed and properly hydrated (albeit usually with coffee).

For the Ballarat Hackerspace members turning up and having a fun time together.

Lastly for all the participants who turned up - it's a great way to learn new things and meet people!

An Album of photos for Govhack Ballarat taken By Brett James is also available.