A Night at Hacker News Kansai in Japan

On top of Pandoralive, I am involved in a certain number of activities in my free time, and one of them is Hacker News Kansai (aka HN Kansai). HN Kansai was born from the desire to find and gather readers of Hacker News living the Kansai region of Japan (basically the Western area of Japan with Kobe, Kyoto and Osaka as major cities). As one of the 3 co-organizers (the other two being Paco and Sacha) of the event, I have been quite involved and I just wanted to share here about what we did about a month ago, since it gives a good insight as to what this event is about, and may interest a couple of folks from the Pandora community as well.

Hacker News is kind of a website where news are upvoted and commented by its members, so the front page changes constantly as new stories come and go. Since the HN community tends to be very much from the IT/Computer Science/Hacker crowd, you get a wide variety of subjects, as well as very technical ones (coding, algorithms, hardware features, etc…). It’s better than Reddit in the sense that the Hacker News crowd is usually composed of highly educated and experienced people, more capable of sensible comments than what you find on reddit or 4-chan. That’s one reason why I come to HN more often than anywhere else: the comments are usually more interesting that the original story being discussed, and don’t turn in 2-years old level of flamewars or insults.

Back to HN Kansai. We kicked off that event in late 2012 and since then we have had a relatively stable amount of attendees, from 20 to 40 every single time. We know it’s never going to be huge because the audience is anyway limited, but it’s probably better to keep things small anyway in order to maximize the interactions. Events rotate every month between Kobe, Osaka and Kyoto to ensure that we keep it fair for members located in each of these cities. Because of the target audience (HN readers, HN being in English), most the attendees are usually foreigners living in Japan, while there are still a few Japanese folks joining from time to time (and showing cool projects too). People come from all walks of life. Some are freelance developers, other are professional web designers, system admins, graphic designers, game programmers, hardware designers, mobile applications developers, etc… Almost everyone comes from IT-related fields but not only.

At each event we have some time to network and meet new people, as well as a time for presentations on various topics. Late February the event took place in Kyoto, and after a round of self introductions, we went through the presentations of the day.

It started with Michael (who is a lawyer IRL, while very much into web design as programming as well), sharing his frustration with the current available services for sharing photos online, and an interesting solution he came across: Koken. Koken is a CMS that’s entirely focused on Photo Sharing, and that can be installed on your own server or VPS without any hurdle. This was the first time I had heard of Koken, and it indeed seems like a cool solution to host your own photos without going through Facebook or Flickr or the other major services around.

The second presentation was from Thomas Bertrand, owner of Bento & Co, an online business selling Bento Boxes made in Japan worldwide. He was actually letting us use his store for the event in Kyoto, which is very conveniently located. His presentation was about a new service his company was going to offer for foreigners visiting Japan. He had noticed that Paid Wifi connections for tourists in Japan were usually neither very practical nor user friendly and he decided to launch his own Wifi renting service to make the life of tourists easier. I liked his presentation, especially when he compared the existing services and the claims they make and does a reality check. A good example on how you can create a new business just by trying to be be better than what’s out there, if services available are suboptimal.

The third presentation was mine. I was interested to talk about the history of the Sega Saturn. It’s an interesting tale about successes and failures and multicultural aspects between US and Japan leaderships in a global company. I don’t want to indulge in self promotion here, but if you are interested in Sega and the 32 bits era, and want to know more about what occurred in more details, you may want to have a look.

The last session was from Sacha, who’s a designer specialized in building web applications (and also happens to be one of the co-organizers of the event). He has recently co-authored a book about Meteor (the new Javascript framework), and in his presentation he talked about how they went about having their book translated in many different languages with the help of the community, and an ingenious use of GitHub. I always like Sacha’s way of thinking: he usually does not try to re-invent the wheel. He looks for the best tools he can use out there, and see how he can make them work together for what he wants to achieve.

We ended up the event playing some Saturn games since I brought mine over for a demonstration of what the machine could do back in the days. Virtua Fighter stills rocks despite its age!

And we usually go for a couple of drinks at a bar nearby before going back home.

All in all I always have fun at these events. There’s very casual so there is no barrier to approach people. It also helps me to keep up with the stuff other people use and stay aware of new solutions, new technologies that may be interesting down the road for my own experiments. All our events are recorded and whatever was presented usually ends up on Youtube a few days later so if you are interested there’s already a lot of material you can browse on the website.

If you pass by in Japan, you should come and join us! The latest info about all upcoming events is on hnkansai.org.

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