Hell Oh Entropy!

Life, Code and everything in between

Science Hack Day, Belgaum

We almost did not go, and then we almost cancelled. It was a good thing though that we ended up going because this ended up being one of our more memorable weekends out and definitely the most memorable tech event I have been to.

It started quite early with Kushal telling me that Praveen Patil was organizing a Science Hack Day with Hong Phuc’s help and that it might be an interesting place to come to. He mentioned that there were many interesting people coming in and that Nisha and I would have a good time. I wasn’t very keen though because of my usual reluctance to get out and meet people. This was especially an issue for me with Cauldron and Connect happening back to back in September, draining most of my ‘extrovert energy’. So we were definitely not going.

That is until Praveen pinged me and asked me if I could come.

That was when I posed the question to Nisha, asking if she wanted to do something there. She was interested (she is usually much more enthusiastic about these things than I am anyway) and decided to propose a hack based on an idea that she had already had. She was also fresh from Pycon Delhi where she enjoyed meeting some very interesting people and she was hoping for a similar experience in Belgaum. She proposed a hack to replace a proprietary microcontroller board in one of Ira’s toys with a Raspberry Pi to do some interesting things on pressing many of its buttons, like reading from a list of TODO items and playing songs from the internet. A couple of days before we were to drive down to Belgaum though, we had some issues which led to us almost cancelling the trip. Thankfully we were able to resolve that and off we went to Belgaum.

Poyarekar ladies watching the inauguration

The first impression of the event was the resort where it was hosted. The Sankalp Bhumi Resort at Belgaum was outside the city and was suitably isolated to give us a calm location. It felt like we were on holiday and that helped me relax a bit. The first day started with an informal inauguration ceremony with all of the mentors (including Nisha) giving a brief description of what they were attempting during the weekend. I found out then that there were workshops for school students going on at the same time, teaching them a variety of science hacks like making toys out of paper and straws, soldering and so on. It seemed like it would be total chaos with kids running around all over the place, but it was anything but that. The workshops seemed very well managed and more importantly, almost every child there was the quintessential wide-eyed curious student marvelling at all of the ‘magic’ they were learning.

An organic map of the venue that Arun Ganesh and his team created by mapping the area using OSM.

The hacks themselves were quite interesting, with ideas ranging from using weather sensors on various boards to various solar applications like a sun tracking solar panel, solar lamps, motion detectors, etc. My plan to remain aloof during the conference and just relax with Ira were foiled and I was promptly sucked into the engaging ideas. The fact that we had a bit of firefighting to do on the first morning (we forgot the password to the Pi and had to hunt for a microsd adapter to reset it) also helped me get more involved and appreciate the very interesting people that I found myself with.

The wall of people between me and the biomass burner

There were so many high points during the event that I am pretty sure that I’ll miss quite a few. The most memorable one was the lightning talk that Prof. Prabhu gave on a biomass burner that they had developed that could completely and cleanly burn a variety of bio-fuels, especially compacted dry organic rubbish. Then there was this spontaneous moment on Sunday when Arun Ganesh came up with a microscope with a broken mirror and wondered if we could add an LED under it with a firm pivot of some sort to provide light. It was a pretty simple hack, but we thoroughly enjoyed the process of burning a couple of LEDs in the process and hunting for parts in everybody’s toolkits.

Oh, and did I mention that Praveen did a Laser show to demonstrate some physics and mathematics concepts?

The hacked microscope

After a wonderful two days, it was finally time to go and we did not depart without getting an assurance from Praveen that we will do this again next year. Like I said, this was the most memorable event I have been to and more importantly, it is an event that I would like to take my daughter to every year to show her the wonders of science from an early age, to let her interact with some very interesting people (they were her ‘other friends’ over the weekend) and expand her horizons beyond the learnings she will get from school.

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