/ CheckTheMirror

HackRPI 2015: CheckTheMirror

I could be wrong, but I think everyone has a different mentality going into a hackathon. Some people have an idea well before the hacking begins, so they've had time to flesh it out and have done so. This is, I presume, the smart route. Others narrow their options down to a field or area before the hackathon, but wait until it actually begins to carve the edges out of the idea. This is, I presume, the second smart route. Then there are people like me, who are so ridiculously incapable of focusing on a single idea that they switch several times during the first third of the hackathon. This might not be the smartest route if you're going for awards or prizes, but I promise it's fun.

HackRPI 2015 was back in November, and I staked out a few possible ideas beforehand. It was shortly after the Paris attacks, so I considered the idea of a system to check on your friends. Nah, requires too much adoption time and Facebook's already doing it. Something neat with the Oculus Rift and/or Leap Motion. OK, possible idea. Ooh, Johnson & Johnson is giving away an Amazon Echo for a cool use of it. Alright, keep that in the back of your head.

So the hackathon started, and I was the first to grab a Rift and a Leap. I'd never even had a chance to use them before! This was awesome. I'd get to experience the fullest VR experience that Tomorrow's Future Today™ could offer. First I plugged in the Leap Motion and set it up. I opened the demo applications, and...it worked perfectly. I give the Leap team credit, this was one of the better working pieces of hardware I'd seen in quite a while. And it was really a lot of fun. So, with even more-built-up excitement, I plugged in the Rift, and...

...it bricked my laptop? Wait, what? There's no way this could have screwed up my laptop to the point where Win10 won't boot.

Nope, yeah, yes it did. Turns out you shouldn't blindly install the Rift drivers/software/whatever if you're running Win10. Otherwise, unless you're lucky like I was and could delete the offending driver via my Debian partition, you might just be screwed. Even after I did fix things I couldn't get the Rift to work. The headset display turned on and showed a desktop (my desktop? the desktop of some celestial being across the cosmos?) but the computer wouldn't actually recognize that a headset was connected. I understand it's still technically a dev kit. But still.

Anyway, the Rift/Leap combo was out, which left something to do with the Echo. I started doing the necessary research into AWS Lambda, which incidentally, is pretty darn nifty and I had never used before this project. I know, I know, late to the party. So if I could only, you know, think of a hack to do for the hackathon...

So I hit on this. I don't remember who said it--I wish I did--but I once heard that when people stop to check themselves in mirrors, they aren't just looking to make sure that their tie is straight or that they don't have food in their teeth. On some level, they're checking to make sure that they're still there. So what could I do with a device like the Echo that excelled in fast, out-the-door type queries? Something just as reflective. I hacked together some querying with the Twitter API and some AFINN sentiment analysis thanks to some handy Node libraries and came up for air with CheckTheMirror. Now, as you're doing that quick little sanity check in front of the mirror, have Alexa tell you whether you've been looking on the bright side or the dark side of life lately (at least according to your Twitter history), and use it as inspiration to reassert yourself in one direction or the other for the day.

If there had been a prize for most metaphysically thoughtful hack...

Go ahead and check out the code on GitHub; it's not the largest codebase, but I got to learn how to use Lambda and Alexa skills, so I feel like it was a particularly productive hackathon.