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Meet Andrei and David, two first edition YH4F participants


The coding period of the Youth Hacking 4 Freedom hacking contest has been running for almost three months now. The competition continues to be a fun contest for young hackers to test and develop their skills. The previous edition ended with 35 great projects submitted with inspiring stories behind them. Read about Andrei's and David's projects.

The rules for the contest are simple: the projects must be Free Software. There are no limits to the possibilities on the kinds of projects that can be submitted. Any technical idea is welcome. This gives each participant the chance to create a project according to their wishes, skills, and interests. At the end of the first edition of the Youth Hacking 4 Freedom competition, 35 amazing projects had been submitted. Each of these projects has an inspiring story behind it. Let us introduce you to two of these amazing projects. Take a look at Andrei's handy tool for dmenu and David's "OpenCV Hand Gesture Control" project.

Before joining YH4F, Andrei was already involved in the Free Software world. He has not only used various GNU/Linux distributions as his main operating system, but also made sure it stays fun with games available for everybody. He recently helped port Minetest (a Free Software game) to the cross-platform library "Simple DirectMedia Layer" (SDL), which helps developers to make sure their games are working on different types of operating systems. But instead of sticking to only a technical world Andrei channels his artistic energy into both shell and film scripts.

The mind behind "OpenCV Hand Gesture Control" is David. David has a passion for Free Software and software development. He learned the basics of Scratch programming in Grade 3. Since then he has improved his skills and widened his knowledge of programming. David started writing scripts in Python and Bash and has now moved on to learning Rust. After the YH4F contest David has also continued to work on projects such as the Matrix-Modbot, which is a bot that automatically moderates Matrix rooms.

FSFE: Hello Andrei and David. Thank you for joining us.

FSFE: How did you come into contact with programming and how did you learn to program?

David: When I was in China, in grade 3 I was introduced to Scratch programming and immediately became fond of it. Then I learned through experimenting with the program to create simple animations and games. When I got my first computer, I started to learn Python from a video series for beginners. After learning the basics, I began to write some small scripts in Python and Bash for myself. And last year, I managed to secure an internship position at a software company. There I learned a lot and this experience also led me to learning about python OOP design and software design in general. Now I am learning Rust and working on a project called Matrix-Modbot, which is an automated bot for Matrix.

Andrei: I used to go to a programming club a friend of mine invited me to. We were writing C++ to solve some mathematical problems (things like greatest common factor, factorial etc.) though we (unofficially) spent too much time playing games there as well.

FSFE: Andrei, can you tell us what was your first contact with Free Software?

Andrei: When I was going through The Odin Project they required at some point to install a derivative of Ubuntu (they said nearly half of software engineers use it and it’s easier to install software and so on). I was convinced my computer would stop booting but went along with it. Xubuntu installed fine! Later on I learned all about the parts of the free GNU/Linux operating system and how they work together so now I have started writing package files (PKGBUILDs) on Arch so that I may too try and contribute to this freeing ecosystem.

FSFE: Andrei, you have already coded before and used Free Software in your daily life. What motivated you to participate in the YH4F contest?

Andrei: I did not know the FSF had an European sister organisation before and I was really happy to get involved! I really liked the way the contest gives an opportunity to choose a concrete, practical task and go through with it. (Too often I get stuck halfway on coding a cool thing, and that’s not great.)

FSFE: David, what motivated you to join the YH4F contest?

David: I saw the advertisement on Mastodon and became interested in the competition, so I joined and used my free time to work on the project.

FSFE: David, how did you come up with your project idea to use your hand motion for executing commands?

David: It actually started while I was trying to read novels or to watch movies on my laptop. When I read, I am usually in a relaxed position and I find it cumbersome to reach for the mouse or the keyboard to turn pages, so I thought: What if I can turn pages or pause the video with the wave of my hand? And that is how I got my idea for the project.

David demonstrating his "OpenCV Hand Gesture Control" project.

FSFE: Andrei, could you also give us an overview of your project

Andrei: I added clipboard functionality to a dynamic menu program called bemenu. Pressing ctrl-Y inserts the system clipboard into the command's command buffer now.

FSFE: What motivated you to work on your project?

David: It was mainly to solve my own problem, and my program could also be used on smart TVs or other devices with a camera to control the device without using a keyboard or a controller.

Andrei: The bemenu project is written in C, and it sounded nice to maybe learn to do some advanced tasks in C like programmatically copying and pasting. That it would solve a practical problem for me was a nice bonus too.

FSFE: Andrei, could you briefly explain what a dynamic menu like bemenu is?

Andrei: A dynamic menu takes in a list of things, for example some URLs, or some commands, or usernames, and allows matching and selecting one of them. For example, typing in fire or fox will match firefox but still allow selecting fire or fox by itself. This means, for example, that finding and running a command is made much easier. Think of it as a start menu, except one that can be programmed to be taken into other programs, like for example using it as a password prompt or a confirmation box. This works because it always gives back the thing that was selected, and that can be used by a different program.

FSFE: Did any of you encounter any problems during the coding period or the building period?

David: I did encounter many issues, and they were mostly some design flaws that I did not anticipate. At that time I had little knowledge about software design and was struggling to make the code clean and cohesive.

Andrei: It turns out getting clipboard data is not the same everywhere! It is one thing on X11, and a different thing on Wayland. At first, writing a clipboard manager myself sounded fine (a likely story!), though eventually I decided on using wl-clipboard and xclip. I am glad I learned to not be excessively afraid of pulling in dependencies where it really solves a complex problem that writing by hand would make little sense.

FSFE: David, can every user define the shortcuts themself and do you have an example on how your program works?

David: Yes, and there is an example config file in the git repo of the OpenCV-Hand-Gesutre-Control. For example three fingers to the right open a terminal window.

FSFE: How did you train your tool to recognise your hand movements?

David: The hand movement recognition is based off OpenCV, however I used a 3rd party library to provide a trained model as implementing the same model myself would be “reinventing the wheel”, but this time the wheel would probably not spin as well.

FSFE: Andrei and David do you think you will continue working on your project and what would be some next steps you would like to realize?

Andrei: I think I am happy with how the project is right now! They may say code never stops changing, but when something is really finished that is great feeling. I’m sure I’ll be back at it if something feels like it needs improvement though! My confidence is certainly there now.

David: I think I will work on the project in the future and re-factor the code as it is currently quite messy and somewhat buggy. To make the detection more accurate, I could use the power of python’s data science libraries to make better sense of the input data.

FSFE: Thank you for your time and we wish you both good luck with your next steps.

The coding period for the second edition of YH4F is still ongoing. For more information about the contest please visit yh4f.org.