Dorkbot Berlin

2012-01-30 23:18
c-base - 8p.m. on a Monday evening - the room is packed (and pretty cloudy as well): Time for Dorkbot, a short series of talks on "People doing strange things with electricity" hosted by Frank Rieger.

First talk up on stage was Gismo on Raumfahrtagentur - a Berlin maker-space located in Wedding. Originating from the presenter's interest in electrical bikes a group of ten people interested in hardware hacking got together. Projects include but are not limited to 3D printing, 3D scanning, textile hacking, a collaborative podcast. Essentially the idea is to provide room and infrastructure to be used collaboratively by a group of members. From an organisational point of view the group is incorporated as a GmbH - however none of the projects is mainly targeted to commercialization: It's main target group are hobbyists, researchers and open hardware/software people. If interested: Each Monday evening there is a "Sunday of the Kosmonauts" where externals are invited to come visit.

Second talk was on the project Drinkenlights (Klackerlaken) - a way for children to learn the basics of electronics without any soldering (hardware available for three Euros max). Experiences made with giving the ingredients for creating these toys to children of varying ages were interesting: From kids of about five years playing around up to ten/eleven year olds that when in school seemingly had to re-learn being creative without being given much direction or instruction on the task at hand.

In the third talk Martin Kaltenbrunner introduced his Tworse Key - a nice symbiosis of old technology (a morse key) and new media (Twitter). Essentially built on top of an Arduino Ethernet board it made it possible to turn morse messages into Tweets. Martin also gave a brief overview of related art projects and briefly touched upon the changes that open source and open hardware bring to art: There are projects that open all design and source code to the public to benefit from a wider distribution channel (without having to actually produce anything), working on designs in a collaborative way and get improvements back to the original project. All of these form a stark contrast to the existing idea of having one single author whose contribution is to build a physical object that is then presented in exhibitions - providing both, new possibilities and new challenges to artists.

In the last presentation Milosch introduced his new project ETIB whose goal it is to bring hardware hacking geeks together with textile geeks to work on integrating circuits into clothes.

If you are interested in hacking spaces in general and what is happening in that direction in Berlin, mark this Friday in your calendar: c-base will be hosting a Hackerspace meetup - so if you want to know how hackerspaces work or want to create one yourself, this event might be interesting to you.

Apache Mahout Hackathon Berlin

2011-03-21 21:39
Last year Sebastian Schelter from Berlin was added to the list of committers for Apache Mahout. With two committers in town the idea was born to meet some day, work on Mahout. So why not just announce that meeting publicly and invite others who might be interested in learning more about the framework? I got in touch with c-base - a hacker space in Berlin well suited to host a Hackathon - and quickly got their ok for the event.

As a result the first Apache Mahout Hackathon took place at c-base in Berlin last weekend. We had about eight attendees - arriving at varying times: I guess 11a.m. simply is way too early to get up for your average software developer on a Saturday. I got a few people surprised by the venue - especially those who were attending a Hackathon for the very first time and had expected c-base to be some IT company ;)

We started the day with a brief collection of ideas that everyone wanted to work on: Some needed help to use Mahout - topics included:

  • How to use Apache Mahout collaborative filtering with complex models.
  • How to use Apache Mahout via a web application?
  • How to use classification (mostly focussed on using Naive Bayes from within web applications).
  • Is HBase a solution for scalable graph mining algorithms?
  • Is there a frequent itemset algorithm that respects temporal changes in patterns?

Those more into Mahout development proposed a slightly different set of topics:

  • PLSI and Map/Reduce?
  • Build customisable sampling strategies for distributed recommendations.
  • Come up with a more Java API friendly configuration scheme for Mahout clusterings.
  • Complete the distributed SVD recommender.

Quickly teams of two to three (and more) people formed. First several user side questions could be addressed by mixing more experienced Mahout developers with newbie users. Apart from Mahout specifics also more basic questions of getting involved even by simply contributing to the online documentation, answering questions on the mailing lists or just providing structured access to existing material that users generally have trouble finding.

Another topic that is being overlooked all too when asking users to contribute to the project is the process of creating, submitting, applying and reviewing patches itself: Being deeply involved with free software projects dealing with patches, integration of issue tracker and svn with the project mailing lists all seems very obvious. However even this seemingly basic setup sometimes looks confusing and complex to regular users - that is very common but not limited to people who are just starting to work as software developers.

Thanks to Thilo Fromm for taking the group picture.

In the evening people finally started hacking more sophisticated tasks - working on the first project patches. On Sunday only the really hard core developers remained - leading to a rather focussed work on Mahout improvements which in the end led to first patches sent in from the Mahout Hackathon.