One stormy Saturday morning last month (November), around 25 creative types and whiz-kid coders assembled in the basement of Draftfcb Johannesburg for the first-ever Hellocomputer Hack-a-Thon.
Inaugurated to encourage and showcase a pioneering spirit in creativity and innovation, the Hack-a-Thon offered prize money totalling R10 000, and was open to teams of no more than five members active in the marketing, communications and IT industries ... or not. The only prerequisite was that each team combined creative and technical skills.
Their brief? To hack something, anything, as long as the final product was the epitome of geek-awesome, said Hellocomputer group executive creative director, Mark Tomlinson.
"One definition of 'hack' from the Urban Dictionary is 'To break into computer systems with malicious intent'. At Hellocomputer, we prefer another interpretation, one said by the same source to be more faithful to its original meaning - 'To program a computer in a clever, virtuosic, and wizardly manner'.
"The Hellocomputer Hack-a-Thon was launched to celebrate a 'do anything' attitude, one that would see the teams combining simple technology and inspired creativity to produce ground-breaking results.
"That's the way we have approached every brief at Hellocomputer from the outset, and we wanted to foster this philosophy on an industry level. The Hellocomputer Hack-a-Thon was our way of doing that."
For 48 hours, the teams participating in the inaugural event hacked their computers into the most unsuspecting of items - nine technicolor slinkies, a hamster cage, an augmented reality (AR) drone and, in one inspiringly-leftfield case, a cardboard box. Blood, sweat and river of coffee flowed freely as each team worked through the night to bring their creations to life.
After two days, the hacked constructions were scrutinised by Draftfcb South Africa group creative officer, Brett Morris, and Gloo deputy managing director, Templar Wales.
First up for judging was a made-from-scratch Quant-music equaliser from Martin Pretorius, Jacobus Prinsloo, Herman Rossouw and Bernhardt Garlipp. Using nine slinkies arranged in a 3x3 layout, some catgut and a nifty bit of coding, the team had crafted a fully functional equaliser that danced to any music it heard.
The Hellocomputer team of Trent Goulden, Ryan Wild, Muano Mainganye and Samuel Goldenbaum was next up with a hacked AR drone. By far the most ambitious project of the weekend, this team recoded an off-the-shelf drone to respond to their laptops and planned to hook in some image-recognition so it could tweet what it saw as it flew around. Unfortunately, the 48 hours was not long enough to complete such wizardry.
The third entry, from Jesse Coetsee, Ernst Van Der Merwe, Jans De Jager and Ross Cohen, was a mishmash of cardboard, arcade computer buttons and a nest of wiring - it was the world's cheapest and easiest-to-assemble midi-player.
However, it was the fourth team comprising Rory MacRobert, Eras Gous, Matthys Esterhuysen, Johan Pieterse and Ben Fourie which put up the winning idea.
In the words of the judges, it delivered the 'best blend of tech and concept'. Using heat, movement, light, vibration and pressure pads, the winning entry was a hamster cage that tweeted every action-packed moment made by its inhabitant, a personable dwarf hamster by the name of Squeaks
. His followers therefore knew when he 'checked into his love nest', or 'stuffed his hamster pouches at the food bin'.
Hellocomputer executive creative director, Kerry Friend, was more than thrilled with the outcome of the event. "For us to have such a high level of entrants in our very first event is beyond awesome. I wasn't entirely sure about how this was going to play out, but it has far exceeded my expectations," she said.
Friend said that the next Hellocomputer Hack-a-Thon, scheduled for April next year, will be bigger and better. If you want to get involved, start getting your team together now.
Follow Squeaks on @Hchamster, or visit www.hchack.co.za