2018: Hackathons I went to and what I built

In 2018, I went to 2 hackathons (YC October hackathon and Science Hack Day) as a hacker and 2 hackathons as a speaker and judge (CryptoChicks and Violet Hacks).

YC October Hackathon 

I didn’t like YC hackathon one bit. Too many businesspeople and product managers pitching their ambitious sounding ideas and making simple prototypes in InvisionApp or worse, Powerpoint presentation. Only about 25% of the attendees were actually technical people. I ended up joining a team building software to count cells in a photo for biologists. We built a very simple iOS app that would return a photo marked with white circles around a photo (using OpenCV). 

Science Hack Day

Absolutely loved Science Hack Day! Wonderful people, brilliant ideas, working prototypes, and my team won a prize!

I had a few project ideas but I decided that the best idea would be to join a great team working on either brain-computer interfaces or autonomous vehicles so I could learn from people who’ve been working in the fields for longer. After much searching around, I decided to join the team working on making two autonomous RC cars and mess around with them with swapped inputs (like car B acting on car A’s input). I liked the people and the project idea! The hackathon started with a few talks by some amazing speakers like Helen Lurie (who works at Lyft Level 5 self-driving car division), Lenore Edman from Evil Mad Scientist, and Indre Viskontas. 

After the talks, we got to work. We started out buying two RC cars and started dismantling them so we could control its motors with an Arduino. After that, I started working on an iOS app that’d be the “eyes” of the cars. The camera input would be classified (I used the ResNet50 model through CoreML) and we selected a few objects we were going to put on the track of the cars and I wrote a simple conditional that’d send a Boolean value 1 to the backend if an obstacle was detected and Boolean value 0 if none were. The backend communicated with the Arduino controlling the motors. By the end of Day 1, we had an almost working car. We decided to pivot to make just one car that’s autonomous instead of the original plan of two cars. 

Day 2 was all the presentations. We presented and our demo worked for 2 obstacles but failed at the third one because the battery died. But since the project worked, they awarded us “Best in Public Safety”!  

Some photos! 

No automatic alt text available.
Our project: an autonomous RC car that uses a smartphone camera for obstacle detection
Image may contain: 9 people, including Jeff Catania and Meng Shang, people smiling, people standing
After being awarded! 🙂

For 2019, I have Developer’s Camp, TreeHacks, and Science Hack Day on my calendar! If you have any suggestions for hackathons I should go to or if you’d like to hack with me, let me know at harshita@harshitaapps.com!

2018: Best books I read all year

The favorite book of the year award goes to: Logicomix! I will publish a detailed review of it soon. This isn’t the most impactful book you can read, but it’s a very enjoyable and thought-provoking book. 

Here’s a list of the books I enjoyed and learned the most from in 2018. This list has no order. 

Non-fiction : 

  1. Coders at Work. My favorite interview was the one with Peter Norvig. Liked it so much that I ordered 5 copies of it and gifted it to my “judge-favorite” team at Violet Hacks hackathon.
  2. Red Notice 
  3. The Teenage Liberation Guide
  4. The Brain by David Eagleman. More of a philosophy book than neuroscience, but an enjoyable read nonetheless. 
  5. Founders at Work. Favorite interview: Max Levchin. 
  6. Bad Blood. The book is very engaging and so it’s hard to put it down once you start reading. When I recommended it to a mentor, he replied, “figured it was about pretty obvious stuff not to do; whereas I like to look for unexpected things to do”. Are there any books about *successful* biotech startups besides Sally Hughes’ Genentech? 
  7. Thinking and reasoning: a very short introduction.
  8. The Art of Living by Epictetus. Nifty.

Scientific:

The textbooks in this list are not finished since they’re usually very long and each chapter takes several days to completely grasp all the concepts and the problems at the end take their time too. But since most of my time this year was spent with textbooks, I think I should mention all the ones I read and worked through at least three chapters from!

  1. Soonish by Zach and Kelly Weinersmith. A wonderful chapter on brain-computer interfaces!
  2. Brain-computer interfacing by Rajesh Rao. The only good textbook on BCIs. It’s the most in-depth resource to learn about EEG-based BCIs, IMO. 
  3. Chemistry by Zumdahl and Zumdahl
  4. Fundamentals of Physics by David Halliday et al.
  5. Calculus by Michael Spivak.
  6. Campbell Biology
  7. Principles of Neural Science by Eric Kandel
  8. Neuroscience by Mark Bear
  9. The cartoon guide to Calculus. I love the cartoon guide series! They’re so engaging and the concepts are well-explained. 
  10. The cartoon guide to Physics
  11. The cartoon guide to Chemistry
  12. Programming Arduino by Simon Monk
  13. Programming Raspberry Pi by Simon Monk
  14. The Electronics Cookbook by Simon Monk (fav electronics author) 
  15. Make electronics
  16. What’s your bio strategy? by John Cumbers and Karl Schmieder. I got a copy at SynBioBeta conference and read it during one of their after-parties. It’s a good collection of interviews of some of the pioneers in the synthetic biology space. 
  17. Letters to a young scientist. A very valuable book. If you’re young and interested in science, this is the first book you should read.
  18. The Secret Life of Science. Such an underrated book.
  19. The Brain: a very short introduction 
  20. The Scientists by John Gribbin
  21. What If?

Biographies:

  1. Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance.

This year I didn’t read any fiction (that I can remember). But next year, I hope to read more science fiction (The Diamond Age, Life 3.0, The first 15 lives of Harry August, and more on my list!). I also want to spend more time reading books by economists. The Age of Em by Robin Hanson and Tyler Cowen’s books are on my list (his blog, Marginal Revolution, is one of my favorites). 

I’m currently reading Autonomy and this book by Scott Adams. 

If you have any suggestions of books that influenced you a lot, please send them at harshita@harshitaapps.com!

2018: Favorite places and restaurants in the Bay Area

Intellectual Stimulation:

  1. The Exploratorium! Best museum I’ve ever been to. I posted photos from my visit here
  2. Noisebridge. A wonderful hackerspace with an industrial 3D printer, a whole bunch of electronic components, soldering station, woodwork room, other specialized equipment like VR and EEG headsets, an amazing ~1000 books library, and really smart and kind people! I’ll visit it more often in 2019 to work there. 

Fun: 

  1. Sandbox VR! Fun VR games. I posted photos and a video from my visit here

In no particular order, here is a list of restaurants I remember liking a lot. Nom nom nom. 

Favorite Restaurants: 

  1. La Fondue. 5/5 stars. My favorite restaurant, ever. Love their cheese and chocolate fondue. A little expensive, however. 
  2. Lolo. 4/5 stars. Great Mexican food. The shrimp rice were amazing. 
  3. Little Star Pizza. 3/5. Good deep dish pizza. Not the best I’ve had, but still pretty good! 
  4. La Fringale. 3/5 stars. Okay-ish Italian food. 
  5. Panda Express. 5/5 stars. I ❤ Panda Express. My friends laugh at me when I say this and nobody wants to go to Panda Express with me 😦 I love everything there, but my favorites are orange chicken, honey walnut shrimp, teriyaki chicken, and broccoli beef. I’ve been to Panda Express so many times this year that I’ve probably tried out everything. 
  6. Mayflower Seafood restaurant in Milpitas. 4/5 stars. Best dim sum I’ve had. People go to Chinatown for dim sum. I tried that once and found the dim sum at Chinatown to be pretty disgusting. 
  7. One Waan. 4/5 stars. Best Thai food I’ve found in the Bay Area. 
  8. Kasa Indian eatery. 4/5 stars. Fantastic mango lassi, butter chicken, and paneer tikka. 
  9. Amber India. 4/5 stars. Liked their shrimp curry and rice. 
  10. Dandelion Chocolate. 3/5 stars. Good place for meetings, coffee, and chocolate. A bit overpriced I think.
  11. Chocolate Covered. 5/5 stars. Wonderful store with so much variety of chocolate. 
  12. MY China. 5/5 stars. Amazing Chinese food. Recommended: spicy seafood dumplings, spicy chicken wings, seafood noodles, duck, beef fried rice — all very delicious.
  13. La Taqueria. 3/5 stars. Nice Mexican restaurant. I go here often because it’s very close to where I live.  

I searched through my images gallery to find photos of food from the above restaurants. Found exactly one photo — from Dandelion Chocolate. Please enjoy a photo of their Chef Tasting Plate!

If you have any restaurant suggestions or would like to explore food together, email me at harshita@harshitaapps.com! 🙂

A poem on science

When I close my eyes and go to sleep,

I think all about Science, quite deep.

I can see the invisible microbes moving around,

And hear the below 20 Hz frequency sound.

I can see the sun, the moon, and the stars,

And the CO2 gas coming out of the cars.

I can see a satellite flying in the orbit,

And the current flowing in the circuit.

I can see the crops getting ready for the harvest,

And a man cutting down the last forest.

I can see a chemical reaction between an acid and a base,

And also myself smiling in the space.

I can see the seven colors of the white light,

And the fungi causing the potato blight.

I can see the light traveling so fast,

Also, the universe getting even more vast.

I can feel the earthquake jolting my bed,

And the yeast fermenting my bread.

I can see the electrical impulses in my brain

And the blood carried by my vein.

I can see my Earth going in the black hole,

And also the electrons going on a stroll.

I couldn’t think about a place where there wasn’t Science,

Science is in me and in every appliance.

 

Originally published on this blog I created when I was 14 years old. 🙂