Hi there, this is my first blog so quick introduction, I’m James, a dev at Huddle.net, I work on pretty much the whole development stack, right from CSS down to TSQL.

Anyway back to the main topic of this blog, my glorious win at last.fm’s hack day last weekend! If you’re unfamiliar with hack days , they are basically an event where a load of developers sit in a room and try to write the best solution for a given problem. The problem given to us at last.fm’s hack day was pretty simple, try to use as much of their new API as possible. My idea was to solve a problem which vexes me every day at Huddle. In our office we have a set of speakers connected, via Wi-Fi, to a USB dongle which is passed around allowing people to play their own music. Unfortunately my music tastes differ somewhat from some of my colleagues (Whenever “That’s not my name” by the Ting Tings is played I die a little inside) and I don’t get hold of the USB dongle nearly as much as I would like. So to solve this problem, me (and my good friend David) wrote StaffWars.FM!

The premise of the application is simple; you all have a small application running on your computer (very similar to the last.fm scrobbler) which automatically discovers all the other people with the application running on the network. You select one of the computer’s as being ‘the speaker master’ i.e. the computer connected to the speakers. Initially the application will play the speaker masters last.fm radio station but if you don’t like the music being played, you can challenge them to a music quiz. If you then win the challenge, your last.fm radio station will be played instead.

The questions being generated were based on data which we retrieved from the last.fm’s API but we also screen scraping of the wiki page to generate some more varied questions. I discovered that, given all the sentences on the wiki page which start with the name of an artist, e.g. “Radiohead were initially branded as a one-hit wonder abroad, but caught on at home in the United Kingdom with its second album, The Bends (1995)”, if you replace the artist name with Who and put a question mark at the end (e.g. “Who were initially branded as a one-hit wonder abroad, but caught on at home in the United Kingdom with its second album, The Bends (1995)?”) you have ready made questions! Other examples of questions we asked were based around artist information, album information & track information, e.g.

  • Which Radiohead album is the track “Paranoid android” on?
  • What year did Leona Lewis form? 2002, 2008, 2006, 077
  • Which of these pictures is a picture of Mike Skinner?

Although I was rather dubious that our application used enough of the API, the Last.FM staff deemed it original enough to win the competition! We do however find it slightly suspicious that the only .net application entered won the competition, which was sponsored by Microsoft… (Best part of the day was when some guy from Microsoft had to talk to everyone about all the (very) cool dev things Microsoft were doing, unfortunately about 90% of the devs there were rocking Macs!).

Even if I hadn’t won, I honestly wouldn’t have cared because that was by far and away one of the best day’s I’ve had since moving to London. As corny as it sounds, it’s not the winning but the taking part that counts (although winning does defiantly help!). Thank you to Last.FM for putting on an awesome day (and Microsoft for the free booze & sandwiches!). Hopefully there will be many more last.fm hack days to come, if not I would most defiantly be up for organising one myself, if anyone’s interested let me know.

With regards to the future of StaffWars.FM, David & I have had quite a few requests to develop this into a proper application, so I’ve added it to my (very long) list of coding projects to do over the Christmas holiday. I’m hoping we will have something relatively stable for people to play with by the New Year. If you can’t wait until then it’s currently hosted on Google code, it’s not very stable and really hacky (we were drunk for about 99.9% of the time we were coding the app).

Zuzanna Pasierbinska-Wilson

VP Marketing


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