Thought hackers were dangerous people? Think again!

Like some other words in the English language, hacker started out as a benign activity, then got co-opted somewhere along the line to mean something sinister. Here’s how Wikipedia clarifies things:

1) Hacker (computer security) someone who accesses a computer system by circumventing its security system.

2) Hacker (hobbyist), who makes innovative customizations or combinations of retail electronic and computer equipment.

3) Hacker (programmer subculture), who combines excellence, playfulness, cleverness and exploration in performed activities.

At Science Hack Day NYC, we’re combining class 2 and 3 hackers with scientists and a whole bunch of just awesome people, who are neither scientists nor hackers, but want to learn about both these cultures.

A couple of snapshots from yesterday:

A thrilled 11-year old schoolgirl who’d come specially with her dad to meet scientists from CERN, because her school project was the Large Hadron Collider. The CERN scientists are working with local hackers on a project called Test4Theory, which can run simulations of CERN’s Large Hadron Collider on a laptop. Now that girl can be part of pushing the frontiers of particle physics from the comfort of her own home.

A Science Hack Day is a chance to meet, talk to and work with scientists.

A retired English teacher, who’d come to learn programming, and how to build her own electronics. With no prior knowledge. At first, she was a bit upset that there was no one who had time to give her a course on these things. But gradually, sitting around with the scientists and hackers, she began to realize that she had something special to contribute to the projects herself. She was good at asking questions and making the scientists – not renowned for their communication skills – explain things simply and clearly. She’s going to be writing summaries of some of the hacks on Sunday.

The hacking continues today. Hacks include making a project on ipads that teaches chemistry in a hands-on way. A project that gets people to sort tweets from disaster zones like the Oklahoma tornadoes, to help figure out where the worst damage is. A dog collar with embedded sensors to check your mutt is getting enough exercise. And many, many more – you can see the full list here.

The event has workshops interspersed, too. One today about balloon mapping by the amazing activists from Public Labs and one on the darling of the open-source hardware movement, the Arduino microcontroller, by none other than Arduino co-founder and NYU faculty, Tom Igoe.

At 8pm, distinguished researchers from NYU will judge the final results of the hack. And in true hacker style, the crowd will get to vote, too. If you don’t have time for anything else, come along for that – we’ll let people in even if they didn’t register. But arrive a bit before 8pm, to get a seat!