Congrats CHICAGO GATEWAY GREEN & Silverline Creative, Winners of Chicago 2012 Webchallenge

While nonprofits, webpros, and our Nerds recover from their 24-hour webchallenge, we thought we’d let you know the Chicago Gateway Green website created by Silverline Creative won the Chicago 2012 Overnight Website Challenge.

Also, you should head on over to Facebook to see a few of the funny Webchallenge tweets & a bunch of pictures from the event.

Nonprofits win nerds, nerds win toys

Winning the Web Challenge is no less glorious than summiting Mount Everest to earn a Super Bowl championship in thin air before safely descending on a waterslide while high-fiving everyone in your path. But winning fabulous prizes is nice, too. Volunteers spend raffle tickets in pursuit of these treasures:

New New iPad: Were you one of those suckers who bought the “New” iPad a scant seven months ago? Sooth your anger at Apple by winning this NEWER New iPad and go back to your rightful spot of having the shiniest, newest toy available.

Lego Death Star: Bored on the weekends with nothing to do? This 3,800 piece LEGO Death Star may be for you. At 16” tall and 16” wide, it’s an imposing addition to any LEGO collection. Get yours now before the Death Star is permanently “upgraded” to include mouse ears.

Fitbit + Sleep Tracker Thingee + Scale + Belt: While programming is hard work, it unfortunately doesn’t come with the same physical fitness benefits that a career in logging does. Win this prize package and you’ll have more data on your health than you can shake an empty Pringles can at. It tracks steps, stairs climbed, distance, calories burned and measures how long and well you sleep. The  Nathan Shadow Pak (it’s NOT a fanny pack, ok!?) discreetly carries your personal items while you run.

Minecraft package: Not sure how to properly express to your special someone that you have an unhealthy obsession for Minecraft? Winning this prize pack should do the trick. If assembling your brand new Minecraft LEGO set while wearing the Creeper cardboard mask doesn’t do it, perhaps the magnets, pins and note cube will. If all else fails, perform a one-person Minecraft reenactment around the house with your foam Minecraft pickaxe and sword as props. They’ll surely get the message then.

Etsy Giftcard – $250: For when you can’t justifying buying a walnut baguette cutting board, a vintage brass camel figurine and a beaded crochet bracelet on your own dime.

Nest: Thermostats. BORING, right? Not so. This beauty will make your home look like it’s out of the Jetsons as it learns your schedule. Trust us, this little guy isn’t sentient, so there’s no danger of it taking control of your home appliances – what it will do is help you take control of your monthly utility bills by changing temperatures based on when you’re home and away. Coming home early? Use the mobile app to connect to your thermostat. No SkyNet here!

Apple Thunderbolt Display: For work or for play, everyone can use a bigger monitor. This 27-inch model by Apple also manages to pack in some extra whiz-bang features like LED backlighting, a FaceTime HD camera, 3 USB 2.0 ports and more.

Intuos5 Touch Medium: Sometimes a mouse and MS Paint just won’t do. When that situation arises you’ll be happy to have this powerful multi-touch surface tablet. With 48.8 square inches of working area, this is perfect for designers and illustrators alike.

Canon Rebel T4: If it’s good enough for a paid celebrity endorsement from Andre Agassi, then it should be good enough for you. Fault!

Wii U Deluxe Set (not pictured): Do you find today’s consoles too boring for your tastes? Wish that you had more screens to look at? Never fear, for the Wii U is (nearly) here. As soon as your copy arrives at Nerdery HQ, we’ll send it off to you to enjoy this all new gaming experience. And then maybe you can explain it to us… we’re not entirely sure how it works.

Nerdery Overnight Website Challenge clock ticking

2012 Chicago Overnight Website Challenge from The Nerdery on Vimeo.

And we’re off. This weekend at The Nerdery Overnight Website Challenge, 115 volunteer web pros will give a dozen nonprofits more than 2,700 hours of their time and a ridiculous amount of their talent. The same judges who selected 12 Illinois nonprofits (from 61 applicants) will return to assess the nerdy deeds/pro bono service of 12 development teams – at 9 a.m. Sunday they’ll award bragging rights to team that’s best served their assigned nonprofit. Until then there’s considerable needy-meets-nerdy buzz in the air at Roosevelt.

Nonprofits & Web Pros Chosen for Chicago 2012 Overnight Website Challenge

Ladies & Gentlemen, we’d like to present to you the 12 nonprofits chosen to take part in The 2012 Chicago Nerdery Overnight Website Challenge!

Eligible nonprofits (501c3-registered organizations in IL) applied by articulating their vision of how nerds could further their mission through better use of interactive technology. Nonprofits selected:

And the web professionals volunteering to spend 24 hours (in a row) helping them create better websites at during the weekend of November 17-18 are:

Get the full scoop on who chose the nonprofits & the schedule of upcoming Chicago Webchallenge Events over in the News section.

We’re bringing the Overnight Website Challenge back to Chicago!

Illinois, give us your needy, your awful, your ugly nonprofit websites yearning to be better, because we’re coming back for the Overnight Website Challenge.

That’s right, we’ve opened registration for the second coming to Chicago of the Nerdery Overnight Website Challenge, our annual 24-hour event providing pro-bono interactive services to nonprofit organizations.

We’re looking for like-minded web professionals to again join in giving their time and talent during the weekend of November 17-18. Nonprofits apply by articulating their vision of how nerds could further their mission through better use of interactive technology.

At last year’s Nerdery Overnight Website Challenge in Chicago, about a hundred web developers and designers freely gave 10 nonprofits well over two-thousand hours of professional services.

Nonprofits & Nerds alike can get all the details on the Overnight Website Challenge site.

Here’s the important dates to remember:

  • October 19: Application deadline for volunteers and nonprofits
  • October 29: Selected nonprofits and teams announced
  • November 7: Needy-meets-nerdy pre-Challenge mixer, at The Nerdery’s Chicago office, 300 N Elizabeth St, Chicago
  • November 17-18: The Nerdery Overnight Website Challenge, 9 a.m. Saturday to 9 a.m. Sunday, at Roosevelt University, Congress Lounge, 4300 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago. This is not a function of Roosevelt University. (There, we had to say that – but we’re stoked to bring our nerdathon to Roosevelt’s Chicago campus.)

Good luck to all!

Flyover 50: Nerdery makes list of fast-growing Mid-America companies

The Nerdery has debuted on The Flyover 50, a list recognizing fast-growing companies in the middle of the country.

“Flyover 50 aside, our Nerd cred has spread well beyond our stomping grounds here in Middle-earth,” said The Nerdery’s Chicago branch manager Dave Kam, seemingly confusing the company’s geolocations with the fictional setting authored by J.R.R. Tolkien.

“Flyover 50 honorees are proof that there are plenty of reasons to land in the central U.S,” said Fred Coulson, managing partner of Five Elms Capital. “We created the Flyover 50 to highlight great companies in the middle of the country for potential employees and customers.”

Companies from a 20-state area qualified for the Flyover 50 based on percentage of revenue growth. Number 36 on the Flyover 50 list, The Nerdery’s 2011 revenue was $26.4 million, up from $14.2 million in 2010. Flyover 50 winners will be recognized at an awards ceremony in conjunction with the 2012 ACG Mid-America Corporate Growth Conference June 7 in Kansas City. More on our News page.

Nerdery-mentored kids go to Congress

“Give a nerd a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a nerd to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
– adapted proverb, some liberties taken

Congress just got an earful from a group of Nerdery-mentored 8th grade students from Project Infinite Green who hit up Dave Kam, our Chicago branch manager, for some after-school tutelage in programming.

“Their advisor, Catherine Greenspon, heard about us due to the Overnight Website Challenge and contacted me to see if we would be interested in building an app for them,” said Kam. “I told them we could mentor the students so they could build it themselves. It was decided that they would come in and we would give them guidance.”

Project Infinite Green was built to encourage STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education by taking school children on a journey through U.S. energy sources.

“The kids have studied both renewable and nonrenewable energy sources,” said Catherine. “After completing the nuclear module, our nuclear team decided that our nation, at large, does not understand the realities of nuclear energy. Their plan is to start a nuclear awareness campaign – one component of the campaign is the nuclear awareness windows mobile app.”

“The programming of the app has forced the kids to really think about the variables of the nuclear plant,” said Catherine. “We also have one student, Jeremy, who is now thinking he wants to be Dave when he grows up. He was originally thinking of becoming a chemical engineer.”

The students are in D.C. May 16-18, presenting to the STEM ED Caucus (members are from both the House and Senate) and the Global Environment Facility (The GEF). Catherine said she hoped Congressional leaders would “give the kids a global perspective on their green business plans and also help them apply their plans to emerging countries.”

“I would wager even Congress is never really ready for their day with Congress, but I think the kids are well on their way” said Kam. “They have a wealth of information and various presentations they have prepared. The web app we worked on is just part of all that. I was impressed with their eagerness to learn. Not just about HTML/CSS/Javascript, but about things in general. The kids are focusing on nuclear energy and have been doing a good amount of research on the subject. They are pretty much like sponges and soak everything up.”

“The Nerdery has provided a unique opportunity for me to learn to code,” said Kevin, an eighth-grader with Project Infinite Green. “Dave spent over 20 hours helping us develop our app. With his expertise we have created an excellent beta version of our Nuclear Awareness app.”

Asked if he sees any future Nerds among these students, Dave replied, “I’d say so! The kids have shown a high degree of self motivation and should succeed in whatever they choose to pursue in the future. They should now have basic HTML/CSS skills and have a better understanding on how web technology works. They were briefly exposed to Javascript and OOP (Object Oriented Programming) as well. So hopefully that sparks their interest in software development in general.”

“My time at The Nerdery has been a wonderful,” said Philip, an eighth-grader. “I was able to learn more about computer coding than I would have been able to learn on my own in 24 hours. The people here are also very friendly and they make my stressful Wednesday more fun. We also learn about each other while we are here and how well everyone is doing with computer coding … I believe that The Nerdery is the best place ever!”

“It was great working with people who may not know what exactly web development entails and getting the opportunity to explain it to them and even guide them while they got their hands dirty doing it,” said Dave. “It was a lot of fun!”

“The team didn’t want to leave  on our last night,” said Catherine. “ They were all wondering when we would see Dave again. He has a fan club.”

Chicago Nerdery moves/grooves to 300 N Elizabeth St. #500C

Chicago branch manager Dave Kam – the first employee hired by The Nerdery’s three founding programmers back in 2004 – has helped bootstrap our Chicago office since it opened in August 2010. We caught up with the Pentathanerd gold medalist as he reflected on moving his team into new digs.

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).


A+ Team wins Chicago’s 1st Overnight Website Challenge

Several pounds of Peace Coffee and a hard day’s night later, the winner of The Nerdery Overnight Website Challenge is A+ Team for its nerdy deeds done pro bono for Southwest Chicago PADS.

Down two ill-stricken nerds just before Challenge weekend, A+ Team captain Chris Wilkinson pinged The Nerdery to assist in finding qualified replacements. Jason Crocker, who’d asked to fly stand-by should such an opportunity knock, promptly drove in from Cleveland to contribute to the winning effort.

Rounding out the Final Four of development teams and their respective nonprofits:

Honorably mentioned runners-up/co-winners:

Comprised of leaders from Chicago’s nonprofit and interactive communities, this independent panel of judges performed the double-duty of assessing applications of eligible nonprofits and judging the work of development teams during the last few hours of the 24-hour all-nighter:

  • Melanie Adcock, tech blogger
  • Joshua Brown, program manager, Taproot Foundation
  • Randy Dill, founder and CEO, Chicago Non-Profit
  • Cynthia Putnam, professor, College of Computing & Digital Media at DePaul University

Huge thanks to all who were a part of Chicago’s first-ever Nerdery Overnight Website Challenge. We’ll be back. Big thanks also to event sponsors DePaul University – College of Computing and Digital Media, and to our hosts, Resolution Digital Studios. Our in-kind sponsors were indeed kind as well, and they are: Chipotle; Dominos; Ergotron; Groupon; Peace Coffee; ThinkGeek; XS Energy Drink.

Good night, and good luck.

Chicago Web Challenge: This is the end

After 24 hours, judges selected four finalists. All ten teams of volunteers have won the respect of their designated nonprofit. May the “best” team also win bragging rights as the winner of Chicago’s inaugural Nerdery Overnight Website Challenge.

Watch live streaming video from hllchicago at