Sunday, 14 September 2008

Go team geek!

It was the moment I had been dreading since the day the Black Boxes widget was embraced with such enthusiasm. I fired up chasing sheep and instead of a Black Box there was a black hole. The server was out of bandwidth due to the amount of data passing back and forth between 'blackboxers', who were doubling every 30 hours and then faster and faster.

By a stroke of luck the tipping point occurred late on Friday (US time - fortunately the UK were asleep) and I just happened to be hanging out with a whole troop of alpha-geeks in one of our hotel rooms in Boston. 

There was a flurry of clunks and swooshes as the laptops opened. We were living the alpha-geek dream: an emergency that genuinely required the application of the obscurest titbits of knowledge we collectively possessed. The clock was ticking and we were ready to save the day.

At first glance the answer had to be simple. After all, it's a pretty straightforward little widget - how hard could it be to find the right blog to send people to based on their choices? But no ... this particular puzzle held a lot more complexity than you could ever imagine. And, for an ordinary person, that would have been a disappointment. Luckily, for an alpha-geek the fact that your first three ideas are nowhere close to a solution is what makes it really start to feel like fun.

5 alpha-geeks, one beta-geek (self-termed and behind the camera), one designer / technical editor and a project manager. Go team geek!

We divided up the tasks and tested various theories. We implemented a fast-fix that we knew would only hold out for a couple of hours, and then we combined our collective problem solving capability and worked out a beautiful solution. I hacked a temporary version of it that we could have up and running that night, and the boys put together an amazing super-charged-version that will take over this week, and means that the widget will be able to handle up to 100 users per minute.

We tapped keyboards, opened terminals, installed stuff, researched stuff, tested, failed, tested, failed better, tested, failed even better and then, at 4.30 am Boston time, we uploaded our solutions and congratulated ourselves on having saved the day. (Or possibly just the widget, but hey, we geeks have egos too and we rarely excel at the heavy lifting stuff).

I can't thank my fellow geeks enough. They totally blew me away - partly with their sheer brilliance but mostly with their complete commitment to finding a solution. They rocked.


HelenMH said...

Wow! What an amazing story. As a dedicated and slightly addicted Black Boxer myself I just want to say thanks for creating and maintaining such a great widget. I've been amazed at the number of brilliant places it's taken me (including here of course) and how quickly it's spread across blog world.

Ms Melancholy said...

This is nothing less than a geek gang-bang honey, and you know it.

Well done though, for saving the day. You may be a geek but you are a genius and I am very, very proud of what you've achieved.

Come home now please. A whole week away from the village is quite long enough.

Ken said...

Thank god you did, I'm not ready for rehab just yet.

PS, I will now be following you! you are just to good to wait and see if I can land here from the black box!!

nmj said...

hey stray, i love the photo of you all as you solve the mysteries of the Black Box - i want to make you all a giant pot of coffee, you poor things up so late! x

Matt said...

I love it.

Caroline said...

You are all my superheroes.

This post is the best post ever.
I am smiling lots.
Thanking you all.

(whispers - Go team geek!)

trousers said...

Fantastic. Just fantastic.

Misssy M said...

I'm going to be honest with you here, Stray, I understood not one one word of that.

All I know is that the black box widget has pretty much taken over my weekend and is ace!

Go team geek- what ever it was that you did that us lesser mortals can only stare at open mouthed ( occasionally dribbling) and poke with a stick in awe and ill-disguised confusion- yay!

(My choices seem to surround 70s cultural're welcome!)

Ms Melancholy said...

Hey Missy, you are not on your own, trust me. Stray sent me an email saying that they had spent all night rebuilding the back end (oo-er missus), finally realising that it was a - and I quote - 'really cool algorithm problem'. A really cool algorithm? What's that, I wondered quietly to myself.

Algorithms are geek porn. She hasn't had such fun in ages.

JJ said...

Oooh, what an exciting story... Move over Jack Bauer and make room for Stray and her geek friends: our heroes.

Now, I'm off to play BB.

liz fenwick said...

First let me say that I am jealous that you are in Boston, my home, which hasn't seen me in it in eight years........

Second thank you thank you thank you for the Black Box is addictive and so much fun ........however my writing time is dwindling because of it.......

lastly it was the wonderful widget that brought me here :-)

McBöbø said...

Brill stuff. Nothing feels better than being part of an ace-team, doing hard stuff well. How very exciting!

Now I can get back to my addiction, secure that trifling back-end bollocks wont get in my way!


Exmoorjane said...

Oh wow, you are the lords of Widget?! Just LOVE it. Horribly horribly addictive (as if I didn't already spend too much time blogging). Also, I have totally abandoned my usual blogroll in favour of the new and undiscovered (though weirdly I do keep coming back to one person time and time again).

liz fenwick said...

back again thanks to BBW :-)

Absolute Vanilla (and Atyllah) said...

Talk about being a victim of your own success, Stray! ;-)

But this is brilliant. The widget is genius and you've done a brilliant job. Thank you!

And Yay to Geekdome!

Stray said...

Hi HelenMH - phew! Yes, we knew we couldn't get you all fired up and then leave you to go cold turkey. As you say - it's the brilliant places it takes you. The widget is just a bus with a very clever conductor.

Lovely ms m - good to be back baby, I missed our little hidey-hole. (and you and badger and Master M and roooobeee of course).

Ken - bless you - we are a bit random and eclectic in our little houseblog, but we like to think that means there's something for everyone :)

nmj - coffee? The boys were on the beer! And I'd definitely reserve sympathy for a later date - we loved it, even if we were very confused about time the next day and had to have breakfast at 7pm (in a wicked obscure diner with real maple syrup).

Matt - and it loves you.

Cas - ta honey, don't whisper ... we love it.

trousers - :) init?

Misssy Mmmmm - points for honesty honey, and if you can stick a donut on the end of that stick it would be much appreciated.

jj - I know! I know! AND we'd just spent 3 days on a wicked training course learning how to implement 24-style narrative into teaching technical subject matter. How fitting is that?

Liz Fenwick - Boston rocked. Was the 24 hour breakfast place on Mass Ave (Zoe's) open when you were there? Amazing.

McBobo - admit it, you wish you'd been there?

Exmoorjane - nice to see you here :) And I'm really glad you're using it to visit new places - so many people are writing great stuff, it's definitely good to hear new voices.

AV&A - yes, it's the best kind of problem to have!

sexy said...