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Throwback hack: Bushwick gets the bulletin board treatment

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This app will take you hack in time.

The winning project at last weekend’s Hack Bushwick event was an ode to the internet’s yesteryear. “Bushwick 1985” mimics bulletin board systems that were popular during the early days of the world wide web, but it is populated with text-based renderings of Instagram images — called Ascii art — posted from and about the neighborhood. One of the project’s creators calls it a piece of art, saying that it showcases the neighborhood’s newfound hype in an improbable medium.

“In 1985 no one would have cared about a Bushwick BBS,” said Madelena Mak, a software designer who has lived in Bushwick for seven years. “The whole app is a surreal piece of art.”

Mak developed the project with Mike Caprio and Simon Lawrence during the Dec. 6 hack-athon at the Livestream Public Space on Morgan Avenue, which is arguably in Williamsburg. The retro website, which the group cobbled together in about eight hours, crawls through Instagram and grabs photos tagged with the neighborhood’s name. Then it converts the images to a block of text that resembles the original image, making it look like a graphic from an eight-bit video game. The coding behind the program is complicated, but the result is decidedly not.

“You could actually fax this to someone if you wanted to,” Caprio said.

The team was one of 17 that participated in the hack-athon, where coders and designers scrambled to make Bushwick-related software while munching pizza from Norbert’s on Myrtle Avenue and tossing back Caleb’s Kolas.

The event grew out of the Meetup group Code, Drink, Talk: Bushwick, which has been convening people in neighborhood bars to talk tech over adult beverages for the last 14 months. One of the organizers said the group thought it was time to get down to business.

“There was a lot of talking and a lot of drinking, but not a whole lot of coding,” said Nate Graves, who hosted the hack-athon with fellow Meetup member Daniel McGrath and founder Robin Camille Davis.

McGrath sees the hack-athon as a natural extension of the gab sessions, and hopes they can host one twice a year.

“We wanted to get some of the same people together in a more technical setting,” he said.

The organizers settled on the loose neighborhood theme for the first hack fest because they wanted it to have a laid-back feel, Davis said.

“This was our first event not focused on shooting the breeze,” she said. “We wanted it to be open for interpreta­tion.”

A few of the teams created projects to catalogue and map street art in the area. Others took different approaches to aggregating lists of local events or providing a place for locals to post them. One, called Oh Hey Bushwick, served as a Craigslist-like board for Bushwick missed connections.

Many of the projects could easily be adapted for other neighborhoods, which was just fine with the organizers.

“We’re looking at the execution and the idea,” Graves said.

Techno Files

The extremely tall (7-foot-2) former basketball star Dikembe Mutombo stopped by MS 447 in Boerum Hill on Monday to get a coding lesson from some of the middle school’s students, though it’s not clear from the press release we received what exactly they taught him.

• • •

One of the winners at Connected Intersections, a traffic-safety development competition, was Peter Pottier, founder of Brooklyn Innovations. His app, called Rider Alert, can let automobile operators know when a cyclist is nearby. It works when a driver and cyclist are both logged into the app, identifying their positions through Bluetooth.

• • •

Rumors are swirling about Apple opening a store in Williamsburg. The New York Post published an anonymously sourced story on Monday saying the tech giant has leased a space on Bedford Avenue near N. Third Street. This is hardly the first time such speculation has blossomed around the location of the first Brooklyn store, but maybe this time there is a seed of truth at its core.

• • •

And just in case you missed it, a drone hit one of our photographers in the face last week during a promotional event at the Sheepshead Bay TGI Friday’s. Hyped as “Mobile Mistletoe” the drone was supposed to fly around with a dangling twig of holiday greenery encouraging diners to smooch. But the aircraft zipped out of control and clipped our shooter’s nose.

Reach reporter Matthew Perlman at (718) 260–8310. E-mail him at mperlman@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @matthewjperlman.
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