Instead of having the usual talks-focused meeting, we decided to have a bit of a hacking session for the December meet. The reasons for this were twofold: we felt that there would not be enough folks around during this timeframe for a good talk-based meet; also, we wanted to dip the toe in the water with regards to organizing more active sessions, as these are a key part of GTUGs after all.
The plan was to spend about a day working on simple Android apps – from 12pm to 8pm on December 29th – with an expectation that one or two simple apps might be developed.
About 10 people turned up for the event – a mix of experienced and less experienced folks, with more emphasis on the latter. We spent the first hour talking about what kind of apps we should try to build, which acted as an interesting brain storming session in and of itself. 6 ideas were bandied about and we decided on the following two:
- a UCD Navigatior app – an app which acts mainly as a map specific to UCD (which incorporates information on the location of UCD buildings) and could easily be extended to a directory app. The main motivation for this was that I often have problems directing people to me when they come to UCD – this app could solve that problem;
- a Safety Camera Locator app – this app would be a car focused app which would indicate the location of the new safety cameras to the driver and alert the driver if they were approaching one. The app would help raise awareness of safety amongst drivers
The first app solves a specific problem which I was having and could be easily modified to work for any campus environment; the second was of more general interest and we felt would see significant downloads.
Having trashed out the apps, we broke into a couple of teams to work on them. The breakdown of work was a bit ad hoc and varied depending on the level of experience of the folks involved. Quite a bit of time was spent getting the environments working – Eclipse, ADT, emulator, eGit, Git repo, etc. We really felt that this should have been set up a priori and that folks should have been able to pull down an Android app and compile it prior to coming out to play.
I was working on the UCD Navigation app – we managed to get a simple app working which has a splash screen, presents a menu and performs some basic mapping. The mapping was based on OSMDroid and we really only got this working at the last minute (we had some non-obvious problem in which we were running an emulator which had no SD card – OSMDroid didn’t give us any intelligent error to inform us that this was a problem). We didn’t get the locations embedded in the map, nor the planned speech interface working; however, some of the basic pieces are there and I for one would like to move it forward a little.
The team working on the Safety Camera app made even less progress than we did, unfortunately. The guys on the team spent even longer fighting with devtools and only just got the mapping stuff working at the end – they did not manage to do get anything done with regards to flagging the specific zones in which cameras are and/or collating speed information. This team would also like to move this forward as they think it’s an interesting, useful and fun app.
Overall, we were quite satisfied with our first Dublin GTUG hacking session. The turnout was respectable, certainly given the time of year and the outputs were reasonable, although not spectacular. We did suffer from the usual problem of taking considerable time to get toolsets configured – we need to address this by doing more upfront preparation and issuing explicit instructions on how to get the tools working, folks then need to come somewhat prepared.
We will definitely do this again quite soon in the new year. One day is short, but sufficient to get something working if people come prepared. However, I think that running it over a weekend and having a second day to play with would make a lot of sense in terms of making it much more likely to have interesting and useful outputs.
Acknowledgement: Thanks to Eoin Bailey for providing input to this article. Eoin has his own report on the event here.