Blog posts tagged as hackshackers

Web APIs – Learning lunch at Hacks/Hackers MCR

hackshackers web apis lunch

We tried something different this time. Inspired by a journalist called Noah Veltman, we put on a HacksHackers Manchester “learning lunch”. We hope it will be a way for people to learn about and discuss important topics for journalism in the 21st century.

The first one was on the subject of web APIs. An API (Application Programming Interface) is a way of getting information out of a system without having to know all the details about how the system works. Everything from Twitter to Yelp to Google Spreadsheets has an API and we looked at:

  • the basics of how web APIs work
  • why you might want to use them
  • how you can use them without doing any programming
  • Popular APIs

We booked some tables at Ziferblat on Edge Street in the Northern Quarter, a venue which charges 5p a minute per person. It includes superfast Wi-Fi, unlimited free coffee, tea, soft drinks, waters, cakes, biscuits, toast, savoury snacks and cereals. It was a good session.

Here’s the slides from the talk.


Here’s a list of web APIs that don’t need authentication making them easier to mess around with.

Hack the election at Hacks/Hackers MCR

Hack the Election

The fourth Hacks/Hackers Manchester was about the general election. How can we make the upcoming general election more interesting to young people and encourage them to use their vote? Can we use games, apps and other tools to engage them in the democratic process or just to make it more fun?

Here are my notes from the event.

First up was Beth Ashton, Social Media Editor at MEN, who outlined how for the newsroom had come since the last election. She also talked about some of the planned coverage including the Manchester Manifesto, an online poll on local and national issues which had over 5,000 respondents.

Next up was Francis Irving, CEO Scraperwiki. He’s a programmer and activist who has built what he referred to as “disruptive, civic tools” such as YourNextMP and

He went through various points from Agitprop Àgogo, a set of posts by Tony Bowden, mySociety‘s “international agitator” outlining mistakes and opportunities in civic technology. It’s a great site and well worth exploring in depth. Here’s a few that stood out:

To end we had Dan Hett, a games developer and livecoder who works at the BBC. He gave an excellent talk on his approach to work:

  • Restrictions are good. Not having much time or money can be to your advantage.
  • If it’s stupid but it works, it’s definitely not stupid.
  • The only valid test is other people. Get it working quickly then iterate.
  • Stay focused. Remember your objective. Don’t get too attached.
  • Choose your weapon wisely. Use what your know.

A great evening with much to mull over. Thanks to all the speakers.

Maps – Lightening talk at Hacks/Hackers MCR

I did a quick introduction to digital maps at Hacks/Hackers Manchester in November. Here’s the instructions and links for reference.


A quick and simple process for getting the latitude and longitude for a column of addresses.

  1. New Google spreadsheet – Columns: Location, lat, lon
  2. Tools->Script Editor
  3. “Create new project”
  4. “Blank Project”
  5. Paste in this script –
  6. Publish->Deploy as Web App
  7. Spreadsheet -> select rows -> Macros-> Geocode Selected Cells Worldwide
  8. Each address should now have co-ordinates


Geojson is a good format for the data. It is flexible and allows you to add your own data to the structure. It’s quite easy to read:

"type": "Feature",
"geometry": {
"type": "Point",
"coordinates": [

But it can be inefficient with large data sets and polygons (consider Topojson if project can work with modern browsers <IE8)

To export:

  1. Tools -> Script Editor
  2. “Create new project”
  3. “Blank Project”
  4. Paste in this script -
  5. Publish->Deploy as Web App
  6. Spreadsheet -> select rows -> Geo -> Export


  1. Try using
  2. Cut and paste the geojson data exported above into the text window.
  3. Your points will appear on the map
  4. Table view is good to see and scan your data
  5. Use Github pages – free hosting and version control. Update the data using
  6. Lots of ways to customise how the map looks and behaves, eg Tilemill (no programming skill required) or Mapbox JavaScript API (you need to know some JavaScript)


Data sources

Interesting examples

Digital maps tend to follow certain formats, but these examples show different and interesting approaches: