All Posts in Culture

November 29, 2012 - No Comments!

Tech Tip: Best E-cards for the Holidays

If your company is planning to host an event or send out seasonal greetings for the holidays, digital cards and invitation services are an easy and often inexpensive (not to mention eco-friendly) way to communicate with your clients, associates, and employees. Here we’ve examined five popular, free services: Paperless Post, Eventbrite, Evite, Red Stamp, and Cardmon.

In general, we found that Paperless Post offers the most robust service, whether you're planning an event that requires registration or RSVPs, or simply sending a good looking holiday card. Eventbrite and Evite are also your best bets for event planning, while app-only services Red Stamp and Cardmon give you easy options to customize greeting cards with photos from your mobile devices.

Here's the rest of our rundown:

Click Chart to Enlarge

November 28, 2012 - No Comments!

You Can’t Dodge This Style

A few weeks ago we took on the best of Chicago's tech companies in...Dodgeball! And while our team of "Splat Operators" wasn't able to claim the five-foot-tall trophy from repeat champions 8th Light (who also, as winners, had $1,000 donated to Kiva in their name—congrats, guys!), we did win something much more important: Best Uniforms!

These stunning, award-winning ensembles would not have been possible without our friends at Strange Cargo, who suited us up in custom t-shirts, sweatbands, and, the pièce de résistance, "Beer" tube socks.

So, to recap—Giant trophy: $50 (give or take). Looking awesome: Priceless.

Many thanks to Braintree for hosting this tourney, and to our other fellow competitors at 8th Light, Trunk Club, Groupon, GrubHub, Bright Tag, The J MomBelly, Redbox, kCura, Vibes, Centro, SingleHop, Backstop, and NCSA. We had such a blast participating, and we'll see you on the court in the spring for a rematch. We've already begun designing our next costumes...er, uniforms...so watch out.

[portfolio_slideshow]

November 27, 2012 - 2 comments

In Memory of Caleb Cornman

We lost one of our guys last week.

On Saturday, November 17th, Caleb Cornman passed away. He was thirty years old, and had worked at Table XI for only two months. He came to us after a tour through every major Ruby on Rails shop in town: 8th Light, Thoughtworks, Obtiva, Hash Rocket. He was a talented developer and teacher.

Caleb's older brother, Josh, said that Caleb "always wanted to make things" and knew at the age of four that he wanted to work with computers. Josh told him that it was a silly idea, that "we're never going to be able to afford a computer." But the family got one anyway, and when they did, "Caleb just knew it already."

Josh didn't have much interest in the computer until he was fourteen, when Caleb sat him down and spent a few hours teaching him how to use it. From then on, Josh was always sneaking into Caleb's room to pick up whatever nuggets of knowledge he could get out of his younger brother. Soon after, Josh got a job fixing computers, which he parlayed into a career in IT. Today, Josh provides for his two children with skills that originated from the infectious passion and intelligence Caleb demonstrated before he was even a teen.

It doesn't surprise me that Caleb started to share his love for computers at an early age. Shortly after he arrived at Table XI, I had the opportunity to work with him - my first time pairing with a more experienced developer. It's tough to find programmers who are technically gifted and have the patience and humility to teach others. Though he was several steps ahead of me, he never made me feel stupid, or flashed a hint of arrogance. He didn't judged my ignorance, but simply delighted in sharing knowledge.

One day Caleb and I were reading over some code, and he made a comment in passing about the "Octothorpe."

"Wait. What?" I asked.

"The Octothorpe."

"What the hell is an octothorpe?"

Most punctuation symbols have long names, which aren't conducive to rapid conversation. Instead, Caleb taught me to refer to a question mark as "huh," an exclamation mark as "bang," an underscore as "skid," an asterisk as "splat," and the pound/hash as... "octothorpe." I don't know why the symbol with not one, but two, commonly accepted monosyllabic names is referred to as "octothorpe," but it might be my favorite word I've learned this year.

I learned a lot from Caleb. In two weeks, he gave me my first vim tutorial, showed me how to write controller tests, and weaned me off of my dependence on the GitHub GUI. He helped me set up Oh My ZSH, and introduced me to the CanCan, pry, and decent_exposure gems. He taught me about code smells, time boxing spikes, and atomic commits.

More broadly, Caleb showed me what it looks like to be a true software craftsman. When he was coding, he was methodical and disciplined. When he got stuck, he knew where to go to get unstuck without pause or frustration. He moved with intention, and had a reason for every decision he made. He cited sources, often saying things like, "My friend Corey Haines says..." At times, it seemed like he had worked with or knew just about everyone in the Chicago Rails community.

The community will miss him greatly.

November 9, 2012 - No Comments!

One Man’s Rise to Fame: To the Moon and Back

Several months ago our Senior Designer, Daniel Strabley, launched the website InstantCosby, where you can click anywhere on the site and joyful Cosby gifs continue on an endless loop. Here at Table XI, we've been enjoying the site for several months. It was our own little daily dose of entertainment, and it was all ours. But somehow, last week, the Internet found out about it. It started with a post from the AV Club, and next thing we knew, Daniel was being interviewed by the DailyDot.

Before Daniel got too busy booking Ellen to talk to us, I sat him down in the kitchen to tell us what it was like being Internet Famous. So here it is, the interview that everyone's been looking for: a behind-the-scenes with the creator of InstantCosby.

Me: What was the inspiration for InstantCosby?

Daniel: I sit next to Jon Fernandez. We used to send each other Cosby gifs all day. Cosby makes Jon laugh so hard he starts to snot. Then one day I thought, "I need to share this with the world."

Me: So InstantCosby is really a humanitarian effort?

Daniel: Exactly. Think Red Cross meets Beavis and Butthead.

Me: How many Cosbys have been generated so far?

Daniel:  As of now about 260,000. I’m no Cosbyologist, but I’m pretty sure that's enough Cosby's to reach the moon and back.

Me: What's been the most unexpected outcome of your sudden rise to fame?

Daniel: I'm not sure. Maybe that I don’t have to wait in line for the bathroom at Table XI. That's got to be some kind of fame metric, right?

Me: Definitely. How much money is this website generating you?

Daniel: Negative 30 dollars a month.

Me:  You're rich! So what’s next for InstantCosby?

Daniel: Google buyout. Or a lifetime supply of Jello. I can't tell which one I want more.

 Me: I was wondering about that. How significant was Jello in your childhood?

Daniel: When I was growing up my mom got us generic Jello. It was rough. You can have generic Jello, but there's no such thing as "Generic Cosby."

Me: You never had Jello? Did you even comprehend the impact you were about to make in the Cosby-loving world?

Daniel: It’s like religion. You don’t have be at church everyday to understand it.

Me: So what's next for you, as a designer and entrepreneur?

Daniel: First priority: avoiding being sued by Bill Cosby. Actually, I guess that would be the best and worst outcome. Worst because I’d have to go to court, but best because I'd get to meet Bill F*&#ing Cosby!

Me: Anything else your fans should know about you?

Daniel: Yep. There’s more. Check out Jon's website: InstantArnold. You're welcome.

September 10, 2012 - No Comments!

New Mugs!

Summer may be winding down, but a crop of new faces has been popping up around the office and our empty desks are filling up fast. We're happy to welcome these new peeps to the fold:

After first luring him to the loft under the pretense of Star Wars Rooftop Movie Night, we were psyched Ed LaFoy stuck around to serve as our very first mobile developer. The fact that he thinks everyone should see the Leprechaun in Mobile, Alabama, solidifies his nerd meme credit.

Starbucks order: Tall black coffee

Our other new developer, Andrew Horner, has a patent love for Dr. Seuss (who doesn't?), and is, himself, a practitioner of Seussian rhyme. We also appreciated that he broke out the TXI green straight away.

Starbucks order: Black coffee

Coming to us from digital consultancy Thoughtworks, Subha Sriram is our newest Delivery Principle. She has a penchant for cooking Indian food and would walk to the office every day, if it weren't 40 miles away from her house (doh!). Oh yeah, and she's also the mother of triplets.

Starbucks order: Highly customized chai tea

With a background in the education industry, having worked previously at Harrington College of Design, Tina Stump comes aboard as our Director of Accounting and Finance. She's pretty familiar with how we do things over here, since she also happens to be married to one of our developers, Chris Stump. Even better, she fills the office quota for being able to do the moonwalk.

Starbucks order: Black coffee

August 23, 2012 - 2 comments

Code Like a Chef: Stand Up

This is part three of Code Like a Chef: What Programmers Can Learn from the Best Kitchens in the World. If you want to hear more, come see my lightning talk at Windy City Rails on September 7.

The first step in my quest to code like a chef was to move to a standup desk.

Standing desks are all the rage in tech circles these days. While the health benefits are well documented, that's not why I use one. I have ADHD, and standing improves my productivity and focus.

I used to be envious of a chef's clear separation between work and play. In the kitchen, there is no room for procrastination, no temptation to check email, and no time to read "just one more page of reddit." And at the end of the day, when a chef is nursing his aching muscles on the couch with a cold beer, there's no urge to do a little more work before he goes to bed.

Office workers don't have the same delineation. We spend much of our work time and leisure time in the same place and posture, and it can be difficult to switch gears. I've suffered too much stress in my life because I lacked a good way to tell my brain, "It's time to get back to work" or "You can relax now." A standing desk gives me a clear signal as to what mode I'm in. When I need a break, I take my computer or iPad to the couch. When I'm standing, it's time to get things done.

Chefs, architects, plumbers, carpenters... almost all craftsmen work on their feet - though, I credit Donald Rumsfeld for starting the standing desk movement. Using one most of his career, he got a ton of media attention when, in a memo on enhanced interrogation, he wrote "I stand for 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to four hours?" He was 71 years old at the time.

Detractors of standing desks argue that standing all day is uncomfortable - which is hard to argue against when the practice shows up in discussions on what makes for acceptable torture. A lot of people find standing desks alleviate back and neck pain, but it comes at the cost of your legs and feet. There are ways to mitigate the pain: I stand on a kitchen mat, keep a stool next to my desk, and at the gym I've become intentional about doing leg strengthening exercises. There are enough bathroom breaks and conversations at co-worker's desks to provide natural rest throughout the day.

That said, standing will never be as effortless as sitting. I feel mild discomfort most of the day. I'm constantly shifting my weight from leg to leg - it's impossible to stay stationary. This is a feature, not a bug. The pain and exertion produce a subtle feeling of urgency, focusing my thoughts on what needs to be done now. I literally think better on my feet.

Ultra-marathoner Dean Karnazes says, "Somewhere along the line we seem to have confused comfort with happiness." My best days are rarely the ones in which I'm most comfortable. I've had a few occasions to work a full day in a professional kitchen, and the physical exhaustion I felt after a twelve hour shift produced a euphoric feeling of accomplishment I had not known before.

I don't mean for this to be prescriptive. If you don't struggle with wandering focus and procrastination like I do, or if you have no appetite for physical discomfort, this might not be for you. There's a lot of negativity towards the trend, thanks largely to overbearing evangelism from standing desk hipsters. However, to paraphrase G.K. Chesterton, for most critics, "the standing desk has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried."

If you're interested in trying, these might be good places to start:

August 10, 2012 - No Comments!

Your Friendly Neighborhood Intern

Peter Park learned a lot interning for us this summer, but maybe the most important lesson was never to bet against the House. And in our case, the “House” is Josh Golden, Matt Lineen, and Mark Rickmeier. Peter lost a golf course bet but was totally game in accepting the consequences: Last week he wore a full Spiderman bodysuit all day at work, including transit on the L and an afternoon run to Starbucks. Thanks, Peter, for being a great addition to our team for the last few months and for keeping the neighborhood safe.

[portfolio_slideshow]

June 1, 2012 - No Comments!

The Future Faces of Techies

June is fun around these parts for a lot of reasons: the lakeside tailgates, the weekly street festivals, and, of course, the arrival of interns!

We're excited to be hosting two interns this summer, Peter Park (aka, Spiderman, natch) and Nate Hartmann.

Peter, who will be working with both the development and marketing teams, comes to us from the University of Georgia with a B.S. in computer science. He sought out Table XI to get some experience beyond web development, as well as to participate in one of our office Nerf wars. Other fun facts: Peter has traveled to every US state and western European country, and he can solve a Rubik's Cube in under a minute (expect a video of this in the near future).

Nate is a rising senior at the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign and will be working primarily with the marketing department. Two years ago he founded Yellow Box, an online advertising firm that generates new and original content for small businesses, helping them stay relevant in the marketplace. Nate's looking forward to crafting and writing for our social media campaigns, and we're excited to tap into his expertise in video and content creation.

Both Peter and Nate will be joining us on the blog during the next few months, so look out for their articles on digital marketing trends, the Chicago tech scene, and lots of other topics.

Welcome, guys!

May 24, 2012 - 1 comment.

From Our Table: Aram’s Award-Winning Eggplant Caponata

Congratulations to our lunch chef Aram Elie, who last month took home first place honors at a cooking competition hosted by local wine bar Paola’s Vinum.

Herewith, the winning recipe. Enjoy!

Eggplant Caponata
Makes about 25 crostinis

1 eggplant, finely diced
1 red onion, finely diced
3 stalks celery, finely diced
1 bunch Swiss chard: stems, finely diced; greens, roughly chopped
½ c golden raisins
¼ c pine nuts or slivered almonds
¼ c lemon juice
¼ c balsamic vinegar
olive oil
salt
pepper
1 baguette, cut into ¼ in. slices
fresh Parmesan cheese, grated

  1. Preheat oven to 375°.
  2. Season eggplant with salt, pepper, and olive oil and roast until tender, about 20-25 minutes.
  3. Saute red onion, celery, and chard stems in olive oil until tender, about 5 minutes.
  4. Add greens to the saute pan and cook until wilted, about 5 minutes, then add eggplant.
  5. Stir in raisins, nuts, lemon juice, and balsamic vinegar and simmer a few minutes until the flavors blend. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Drizzle baguette slices with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and toast in oven until golden brown.
  7. Spoon the eggplant mixture onto bread slices and top with Parmesan and a drop or two of balsamic vinegar.
  8. Serve warm or cold.

May 3, 2012 - No Comments!

Enter the Deepworld

Mike Laurence and I have been building web applications for a long time, and we’ve had the opportunity over the last year to work with Table XI on some fantastic web applications for our clients. The web offers a wide variety of challenges, but we always found scaling to be the most interesting. Things like cloud provisioning, load balancing, caching, and database replication make big projects a worthy challenge.

Sometimes you need a break from the web, though, so we decided to put our architecture skills to the test and build a massively-multiplayer adventure game: Deepworld.

Deepworld features an online, persistent sandbox universe; anyone can jump in to explore, build, or just hang out with friends. It's very engaging, and also the most technically complicated setup we've ever dealt with. We have dozens (soon to be hundreds) of worlds, all hosted across multiple cloud servers, with things like MongoDB, Redis, and various helper apps in the background.

We opted early on to use Ruby to develop our server code—an odd choice to many in the game industry, but something we are very familiar with. It turns out that EventMachine, the very mature Ruby equivalent of Node.js, is quite fast. With it, we've designed our own TCP-based protcol, baking in compression, authentication, and tons of other bells and whistles, as well as TCP testing framework on top of RSpec.

We’re in alpha testing phase right now, with a bunch of regular players in the alpha program. They’ve been building an amazing array of structures and are having an awesome time. We also recently held a Table XI playtesting party, which was great fun!

We've launched a Deepworld Kickstarter to help us with our final fundraising push, and have just under two weeks to go. Check it out for more info, thanks for your support, and hopefully we'll see you in the game!