MCQN neighbours Scraperwiki are a startup working out ways to make it easier for people to gather data on the web and forge it into something more useful. To help test their system and give people a taste of what's possible they've been organising a series of hackdays around the country. The Liverpool event (co-sponsored by Liverpool Daily Post & Echo and LJMU OpenLabs) was on Friday 16th July and we went along.

I was expecting to spend the day writing web scrapers in Ruby, given the focus on data, but took along some Arduino kit in case anybody fancied doing some real-world visualisation.

When we were forming into teams I got chatting to artist John O'Shea and we decided something more tangible would be a bit different to the usual on-screen visualisation; so my day of ruby-grappling turned into a day of Arduino-hacking.

John had already teamed up with Donovan Hide to look into court and legal data, and Andy Freeney joined us to provide some more Arduino expertise.

Donovan did all the heavy lifting with the data, pulling down details of all one-and-a-half thousand courts in the country and showing their status; something he's since spun into a more-traditional website at

Andy and I, with some artistic input from John, set about creating a robot judge who could bang his gavel on a cigar-box bench to indicate when cases were closed. By the end of the day he was looking pretty fearsome, despite being cobbled together from paper cups and PVC tape. Here's a short video of him in action:

In addition to his drawing skills, John pulled together a presentation during the day to explain what we were doing to the rest of the attendees in the round up at the end of the event.

Sadly we didn't win any of the prizes awarded during the round up, but we did have an excellent day playing with data and different ways of looking at it, along with meeting a host of interesting people - journalists, artists, geeks, bloggers and coders.

John has written up the event on his blog and there's more coverage linked from the Scraperwiki review of the event.