This video is offered without comment because mere words would fail to describe its glory. The only thing that could do it justice, perhaps, is interpretive dance.
Great Moments in Nerdery
Suddenly the LEGO Death Star at $399.99 seems like a pittance. Students at Lehigh University set out to estimate how much it would cost to make a Death Star. You can read all about it. It’s a lot. Now, before you get that Kickstarter kicking you should know this:
“But, before you go off to start building your apocalyptic weapon, do bear in mind two things. Firstly, the two billion death stars is mostly from the Earth’s core which we would all really rather you didn’t remove. And secondly, at today’s rate of steel production (1.3 billion tonnes annually), it would take 833,315 years to produce enough steel to begin work. So once someone notices what you’re up to, you have to fend them off for 800 millennia before you have a chance to fight back.
That LEGO Death Star keeps looking better and better.
More than a few nerds are so filled with joy at this LEGO Minecraft news that they are losing their minds. The Brothers Brick, my favorite LEGO blog, has more pictures and the full scoop. But here’s the relevant details for those of you who can’t even wait for a web page to load:
“The new set, which was the first to receive 10,000 votes of support from users on the global LEGO CUUSOO idea collection platform, will be available for purchase in summer 2012, but can be pre-ordered from today, exclusively through Mojang retail partner Jinx.com for $34.99 €34.99 at. The sets will also be sold in select LEGO brand retail stores and the LEGO online shop from summer 2012.”
This is a public shout out to our sales directors and development directors who left their cozy offices to carve out common ground right in the middle of The Nerdery. I’ve admired their unprovoked, bold move to blur the lines that separated their teams in order to improve our lines of communication. Instead of saying “Get off my lawn,” development and sales directors created The Lawn. Good call. It’s working.
No company can avoid people problems, and with 300+ people it matters more and more how we roll with changes. But organizational growth doesn’t have to mean more baggage and protocol, and we’re willing and able to reinvent ourselves in order to form a more perfect Nerdery. Our work is about overcoming challenges with technology, but technology can’t do this by itself – it takes people, relationships and trust to succeed. The business of custom software is very challenging. There will always be problems during production. We won’t pretend to have all the answers but we’re good at figuring things out – including nontechnical things of a more human nature.
The Lawn has become our fertile ground for cultivating relationships that allow us to handle problems as they arise. Eric Johnson, our director of project management, explains, “The Lawn provides Nerdery leadership with instant access to peers and interdepartmental leadership. We work collaboratively to solve problems and address company needs on a daily basis.”
The communication methods of our recent past were not keeping up with organizational growth, which introduced risk to employee experience, and, ultimately, customer experience and quality of work. Distributed leadership works well here because significant changes need not be top-down decrees. Territorialism is as out-of-place here as signs that say, “Get off my lawn.”
Instead of protecting their individual “lawns,” development and sales directors created a bigger, better lawn they could all share. The idea of leaving their comfortable existing workspace for something more collaborative was a sacrifice these Nerds were willing to take. Jon Pettersson, our director of software engineering, wasn’t exactly stoked. “I was very much opposed to moving to The Lawn at first. But after witnessing firsthand the efficiency of being able to simply get things done, I have been convinced of the benefits.”
Jake Trippel, director of our enterprise partner program notes, “I have had the awesome opportunity to get to know my colleagues better personally, as well as professionally.”
The simple, effective solution of physical proximity in The Lawn is a testament to the pragmatism and humility of our development and sales leaders’ ability to adapt to the needs of our growing company. Where they could have built new process, rules, or protocols, they opted for simple relationship building and physical collaboration. For years we have bragged to potential recruits that they’d never hear the phrase “read the f&#*ing manual.” I’m stoked to say that “get off my lawn” is not welcome either.
Anything you’ll miss about the old place?
Probably the only thing is the quiet. We’re in a loft style office building now, so we can hear everything and everybody can hear us. So we’ve actually gotten complaints about the dogs.
Comparing our new space to the old, what are the biggest wins/coolest features?
We have an actual full kitchen. With a dishwasher, dining area, and even a stove! We also have a theater that has a DJ area.
Did you rock-star the old place before moving out? Will we get our damage deposit back?
No, not really. And yes, we should totally get our damage deposit back. I actually patched up the holes left by the mounting screws. So really, the place is probably better than when we took it over. Also, Tommy O put in a classy sink in the bathroom so really, the landlord probably owes us money.
Any plans to spruce-up and/or nerd-out the place?
We’ve already started on this. We’re doing a MTV Cribs style video at BottleCap next week so you can see what we’ve been up to.
How many nerds will the new space hold?
With the current layout, 26. If we re-arrange, about 32.
Are you actively seeking nerds now? What positions?
Yes we are: account directors, front-end developers, PHP developers,and iOS developers. We’re probably going to be adding .NET/C# developers and an office manager to that list soon.
Moving can suck. Did it?
Honestly, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. But I think it’s because of all the pre-planning that Perry and Eric did. Without them and their teams coming down to help with the setup before the actual move, there’s no way we would have been able to finish the move as quickly as we did.
In the Twin Cities, we’ve expanded our office space eight times in as many years. How long before we outgrow our new Chicago space, and what then?
Well, we’ve got six spots left open, so it’ll be pretty soon. We do have the option of expanding into our original space next door anytime we want. But ideally, we’re trying to hold out until May when we can move into the space right below us.
Any ongoing need for a tweeting bathroom (* full explanation below)? Plans to get it going again?
I think we’ve seen the last of the tweeting bathroom whose hardware was re-purposed for another side project. Maybe as we grow and the need arises, we will bring back a version 2.0.
* Tweeting Biffy: A case study
The business problem: We had a dozen nerds – men and women – sharing one bathroom and the only way they could know if it was occupied or vacant was to turn the doorknob – ugh. The business solution: Finally, a bathroom worth following on Twitter – one that tweets its vacancy. Said Nerdery software engineer Dan S: “We discussed things like having some light somewhere, or other indicator saying what state the bathroom is in and then at some point Thomas said ‘we could have a bathroom that tweets and we all sorta laughed. Overnight I thought about how it wouldn’t be such a bad idea.’”
Not-so-bad ideas like this are taken seriously at The Nerdery, where we partner with big thinkers and creative minds to engineer and execute fancy web, mobile and social media projects. But beyond all that, Dan has considerably more to say about embedded systems in bathrooms (fair warning: fairly nerdy):
For development, mbed has a nice and easy to use online compiler. What this means is that you write your code in a browser and that code exists ‘on the cloud’ and when it’s compiled using their compilers, you get a nice .bin file that can be placed onto the mbed unit. The mbed development board is a micro-controller that has a set of API’s to interface with very low level hardware interfaces, IE, stuff that chips inside things like the iPhone, PS3, the computer you’re using, use to communicate with each other. There isn’t ethernet running between your computer’s processor and its RAM/Hard drive/sound card, etc. There are buses with defined interfaces into the processor. This mbed is the same way with just ‘lower’ level interfaces to communicate with things like sensors, or other integrated circuit chips (such as GPS, bluetooth, RFID, NFC, ZigBee, etc.). The mbed can be connected to a regular TCP/IP network, which is where the fun really happens. It allows you to build something that not only connects to a standard network, but can run code that you write to do nearly anything. Think of it as a mini computer with really good battery life at a huge performance disadvantage. The mbed runs at about 100MHz, which is ‘slow’ compared to today’s Core i7 processors, but 100MHz is more than enough to talk to a network and ‘read’ what sensors are sensing, or log read information to something like an SD card. There are hardware limitations, but there are also creative boundaries that have to be overcome to see ‘how can i achieve X?’. Other microprocessors use JTAG to be programmed. The convenience in the mbed is that the mbed gets mounted as a flash drive. This lets you drag the downloaded .bin file to the ‘flash memory’ of the mbed and press the reset button on the mbed to ‘reflash’ it, effectively putting your software onto the small board. This process is MUCH more streamlined than other solutions, which makes mbed a first choice in any smaller ‘quick, even possibly dirty’ way of getting things done™. Before (of after/during) software development, you will put the mbed onto a breadboard that lets you interface and communicate with the world outside of the chip. This is done through GPIO (general purpose input/output) or through peripherals (SPI, Ethernet, I2C, etc. RE: Comms between chips/digital world). For this particular project, ethernet was used to connect to the internet and a GPIO pin (input) was used to ‘read’ the door sensor’s value. The resistor is used as a means to force the GPIO pin to ‘ground’ (or logic of 0) whenever the sensor is not strong enough to move the input to 1. This pull-down resistor ensures that we should ALWAYS get a 0 in the input except in the case where something STRONGLY (not very strong, but you’re pretty damn sure) is a 1 (higher voltage).
How the software works: The code initializes the chip and then basically sits and waits. What’s it waiting for? A transition on the GPIO pin, which is a fancy way of saying when it for sure goes from 0 to 1 or 1 to 0. This effectively interrupts the microprocessor from whatever it was doing, and immediately starts a function that will read the logic level of the GPIO pin and then call to a server with the status (as well as the Oauth stuff for twitter. The post is made and then the mbed continues to sit and wait for the next interrupt. What it implies is fairly interesting as well, imagine any bit of information (literally, on/off, open/close, available/not available) could easily be streamed to twitter or some other service/individual. This includes conference rooms being available/not available, test hardware being checked in/out, tweeting pop machines – the sky’s the limit (and your imagination).
Gawker has posted a great exchange between a vigilant New York Times crossword solver and the venerable crossword editor, Will Shortz. The awesomeness that ensues revolves around the word “illin” and its actual definition. The email back and forth includes this smack down:
According to the Dictionary of American Slang, edited by Robert L. Chapman, “illin’” means “stupid, insane.” “Wack” is defined as “worthless, stupid.”
The Dictionary of Contemporary Slang, by Tony Thorne, defines “illin’” as “bad, uncool,” and says it is a buzzword in the rap and hip-hop cultures. It seems to me that’s roughly the same as “wack” in the sense of worthless or stupid.
Go on over to Gawker to see the crossword solver continues her argument for the proper use of illin’.
If that headline didn’t make your head explode, you can get the full scoop on this mind-blowing event over at Singularity Hub.
Formerly director of software development, Kris takes on the Vice President of Software Development role being vacated by Tom, who is moving into the newly created position of Chief Strategy Officer.
“One of the most important things that we’ve done over the years is to find great people (bad asses) and put them in a place to succeed (with their big ideas) – something that I think our company has been particularly good at,” said CEO Mike Derheim in a staff email.
Mike went on to call Kris a “rockstar” under whose leadership “our small group of programmers has expanded to almost six times its size and has become arguably the best interactive development team on Earth.”
In this move, Kris will take over the strategic reins from Tom as the primary leader of the development department, and also becomes a member of The Nerdery’s EC (executive committee) team. Kris started at The Nerdery in 2006 as a programmer and was promoted to software project manager before serving as director of software development. Last week, Biz Journal interviewed Kris when we made their Fast 50 list for the fourth consecutive year.
In Tom’s new role as Chief Strategy Officer, Mike said, “Tom will work with each of our leaders to ensure that their goals and objectives are in line with those of the company, and will make sure all of the pieces are in place for those goals and objectives to come to fruition.”
Tom began his Nerdery career as a programmer in 2004, when he was among our first employees. After spending the better part of the past year launching the Chicago office, he recently returned to the Twin Cities to take on his next challenge. “Tom’s ability to push initiatives forward and lead people toward a goal is obvious if you’ve ever had the chance to work with him, and this move will give him the tools he needs to do that across department lines,” Mike said. “If you see Kris, toss him a high five and a hells yeah – he deserves it. If you see Tom, no action necessary – he’ll probably throw out the high five/hells yeah on his own.”
Do you like bad asses with big ideas? Sweet! You should come work at The Nerdery. Head on over to the Jobs section where you’ll find more than 20 open positions.
Why yes, it’s a version of “Funkytown” played on old computer parts from the 80s.