Assumptions wrong, sound quiet

October 27, 2004

We had feared that when we staffed up the operation that the noise in our one big room would be too much. Turns out it is deadly silent. Except for the clicking of powerbook keys . . . and the (on by default) burps and yelps of ichat.

The robot co-op on the Amazon detail page

October 27, 2004

Hey, we know a good feature when we see it – and the “customer photos” feature that just released on is a hit with us.

Congratulations to the Community team for getting this out to the world.

“It’s the water”

October 19, 2004

When Jason Fried was in town, he was asking what was in the water of Seattle that makes companies grow. Microsoft,, Starbucks, Aldus/Adobe, Real, Expedia – it is a pretty good list of companies (though an uneven list of customer experiences). If you go to the next level of companies the list goes on into the hundreds. These aren’t just successful companies – they are often company’s with interesting products that do something new or something on a scale never seen before.

We hypothesized that a big part of it was the capital concentrated in the Puget Sound area. Certainly funding a good idea in the Seattle area is not as tough as it would be in many cities.

We also talked about the idea that just as the rain makes Seattle bands practice more, so to, perhaps, does the 8 months of Fall/Winter keep companies here hammering out work with heads down effort.

But even more valuable than the cash, rain (or coffee) is the social capital that has built up in the region as cycles of employees have passed through these companies and become entrepreneurs. The experience that comes from going through product cycles, designing products from the ground up, rolling out partner programs and “go to market strategies” is hard won knowledge. You don’t find it in every region, but you get it in spades in the Seattle area.

It’s the water, and a lot more . . . It’s raining, I’m drinking coffee, and it’s time to get working on the “go to market” plan.

Welcome Bob, Todd & Ivan!

October 17, 2004

The Robots are rounding out our roster in October with the addition of Bob Cottrell, Todd Gehman and Ivan Opalka.

We’re thrilled to have Bob Cottrell join the Robots. A JD, MBA and BS in Mathematics makes Bob the only person I know who can sue himself for bad business and coding practices.

Todd Gehman brings with him a wealth of web development knowledge and some cool shirts. In a recent past life Todd worked in Seattle on a big website that sold lots of stuff.

From the original land of Robots comes the one and only Ivan Opalka. Ivan joins the Robots with an enthusiasm for building things from scratch. I’ve seen pictures of his hand-built motorcycle in his homeland of Slovakia—he built the engine, frame and fiberglass body by hand from the ground up. To je spica!

Dave Thomas talks about Ruby at Amazon

October 9, 2004

The Robot Co-op got a chance to sneak into Amazon and see Dave Thomas talk about Ruby today to a crowd of skeptical-at-first C, C++, Java, and Perl developers.

Dave Thomas gives a quick tutorial of David Heinemeier Hansson’s Ruby on Rails framework:

Even though the crowd lobbed some difficult questions, Dave must’ve been doing something right because the free-for-all for copies of the latest edition of Programming Ruby reminded me of a Britney Spears concert (without the synchronized choreography and hot pants):

I think on some levels that there was a misunderstanding present at the talk. Dave Thomas might not know exactly what it’s like to design, build, and maintain a code-base that 1,000+ developers are contributing to and which runs a site that 35,000,000 people are using. And sometimes I feel like some developers might not know just how much innovation and productivity rely on language, the ability to have fun writing code, and the development environment that it all happens in. I could be making all of this up, but it’s possible that someone armed with both of those pieces of information could build something pretty interesting pretty quickly.

In the meantime, prototyping over at the co-op continues in Ruby on Rails, and we’re going to allow another batch of 20 pre-pre-alpha testers in by the end of next week. I designed the logo, and at least one person seems to like it. Also, before you know it, I’m not going to be the only one coding up this thing with a paycheck.

P.S. Dear Dave Thomas, it came up in the talk that it was necessary to scrape Amazon’s detail pages in order to get Sales Rank data… and that this information wasn’t available in the web services. That’s actually not true… I’ve been using it on All Consuming since web services first launched. Just thought you might want to know, so you don’t have to keep adjusting that scraper to every little change on the detail page… that gets old quick.

Welcome Eric Hodel!

October 8, 2004

The Robots are happy to have Eric Hodel join our ranks. Eric will leave behind his necktie and lengthy commute for a short walk to work at TRC where he’ll add to his impressive Seattle lineage: Seattle Ruby Brigade member, Seattle University CS graduate, former Dick’s Drive In employee … The Robot Co-op.

Products, process, prototypes and codenames

October 6, 2004

We are building . . . something. We don’t really aim to be cryptic, but we don’t really want to talk about it as much as show it. And it’s not really ready to be shown, so all we can do is lightly titillate.

We’ve got our prototype working to the point that the idea is starting to be clear enough to show someone. So far Erik has done most of the coding with some help from Robot Co-op drop ins Doug Beaver and Todd Gehman. Jason from 37signals stopped in and helped us with some design. We are building on Ruby on Rails, and so far its getting nothing but accolades in the office.

We’ve got a lightweight XP process going with one week iterations. Task cards and data schemas are taped to the walls.

It’s great motivation to see progress on the product.

Oh yeah, and it’s got a codename! At Microsoft everything has a codename. They use the names of bars around ski lodges, types of butterflies, methods of killing with instruments at hand. Everyone battles for the “coolest codename”. But there is nothing worse than watching a team struggle to get a codename – the search team I worked on struggled for over a year – perhaps not the biggest difficulty they faced but likely symptomatic of those bigger challenges.

So here’s the first tentative step, introducing the product formally codenamed: “Snuzzle”. A long line of other pony names await!

We aren’t really sure how long it will take. We are sure we don’t know if it will work. We are aiming to have fun building it, speeding our way toward a trial, and trying to fail (or succeed) as fast as we can. That’s when the learning really starts. We hope it will be fun and useful. Our favorite things on the internet have these qualities in abundance: fun to use and useful, to, uh, use.

The office iMac

October 2, 2004

The Robot Co-op’s new iMac arrived today. It’s beautiful. Everything from the way the (one and only) cord (for power) attaches to the back to the easy setup (you can even import personal settings and applications from another Mac computer, like a PowerBook, but I didn’t have the required firewire cable). It will serve our music, intranet, prototype, unit tests, answering machine, and perhaps a robot voice that chimes in every hour and asks, “What have you done today?” Before you get too jealous, though, I should say that I did pay for it myself. Our robot doesn’t have a credit card.