Did /dev/fort Just Hand Over Astronaut Listening Data To The WWW?

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Everyone is rightly very excited about the upcoming mega-hackathon at Disrupt New York. At last count, the event will host around four hundred billion hackers, working on some eighty five trillion projects. Luckily, as at all TechCrunch events, there’ll be rock-solid wifi and wired Internet for all those billions of people to use.

And yet… on the other side of the Atlantic, a merry band of hackers is proving that you don’t need to attend a record-breakingly-large hackthon to produce a seriously cool app. In fact, you don’t even need Internet access.

/dev/fort is the brainchild of London-based developers James Aylett and Mark Norman Francis – and provides an answer to the age-old question: what happens when a bunch of developers and designers lock themselves away in a 19th century fortress on the Channel Island of Alderney, without Internet access, and decide to build a cool app.

As attendee Hannah Donovan explains.…

“…[there's] no way to quickly look up a design pattern, code sample or source material. Like packing for camping, /dev/fort means bringing everything you’ll need on your back or your hard drive: from long johns to your favourite icon set.”

(If Donovan’s name sounds familiar, it’s probably because she used to be Creative Director at Last.fm. In fact, the most recent /dev/fort was like a Last.fm reunion camp, with former Systems Architect Russ Garrett and ex-Head of Web Product Matt Ogle also in attendance.)

The result: Spacelog, which hacks the original transcripts of early space missions to tell the stories of Vostok 1, Mercury 6, Apollos 11 and 13 – and more – as they happened. Each transcript is broken down into (ahem) small steps for man-ageability, and also sorted into timelines and phases so readers can follow each mission in, effectively, real time. It’s as if Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin et al were on Twitter. Or actually, given there are photos from the Apollo mission too, it’s as if Armstrong Aldrin et al were on Twitter and Twitpic.

Who knew that astronauts could be funny?


Sadly, in space nobody can hear you laugh.

Of course, alongside all the jokes, there’s also plenty of space jargon in the transcripts. Fortunately, though, rolling over key phrases provides a translation for the benefit of non-astronauts who might not know that, say, PTC means Passive Thermal Control.

Spacelog would be a cool hack in any circumstances, but the fact that it was conceived and built in an isolated mid-Channel castle in 36 hours tips it over into the realms of awesome. As Donovan puts it…

“The weather was cold, the coal fire less than ideal, food and supplies a hike away, and the process lightning-fast. A week of designing under extreme circumstances called for an extreme process.”

(You can read more about that process here)

As with all good hackday projects, Spacelog’s development is ongoing, albeit constrained by the team members’ day jobs. Says Aylett, “Apollo 8 would be the next one, but there’s a fair bit of work to get it out”. If you’d like to help them out, there are details on how to get involved with Spacelog here.