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Blog posts from April 2011

SVK Update: Introducing Bulmer

SVK is tantalisingly close to being in the world.

We’ve got all the story and art, we’ve got some special guest contributors, we’ve got boxes and boxes of UV torches en-route from China… So, not much longer now.

May = getSVK.

In the mean-time, some more DVD extras… I’d like to introduce you to Thomas Woodwind‘s assistant – Bulmer

Here’s Matt ‘D’Israeli’ Brooker’s character sketch from the beginning of the project:

Bulmer development sketch

From Warren’s character notes…

WOODWIND’S AIDE: pushing thirty, still living like a student, unhealthy and pallid
with a shock of black hair that looks like it was dipped in tar before being stuck
to his head.  Owns only t-shirts.  Works in t-shirts and y-front underpants at all

HIS BASEMENT: he has a ground-floor flat (maybe Shoreditch?  Maybe Camden
Town or Hackney?) with use of a basement, and that’s where he’s set up.  Imagine
NASA Mission Control as furnished by Steptoe And Son.  There is an actual order
to what’s in here — tables, workstations, laptops and a couple of iPads, real
high-end stuff like fabbing machines and printers that print metals and microscopes
and Other Stuff, and also a lot of junk and shit — but probably no-one can see it
but him (and maybe you).

And, here’s Matt Brooker’s final art for Bulmer’s basement ‘batcave’…
SVK: Bulmer's "batcave"

And… just a reminder – I’ll be showing a few more sneak-peeks of SVK this Saturday at Sci-Fi London’s comics day.

Creating a warm welcome

I’ve been thinking about new employee orientation lately. We’ve had four new people join BERG since the start of 2011 and we’re about to add two more, so there’s been a lot of orientating going on here.

When I worked at a company with more than 600 employees and was directly responsible for hiring and training a team of 10 employees, we had a very in-depth orientation programme that lasted for weeks and had been continually refined over a couple of decades.

New employee orientation for a small, relatively new company like BERG is obviously a very different thing. For one thing, since we’re so much smaller, it takes a lot less time to learn about the organisation and the people in it. That doesn’t mean, of course, that it’s any less important to have some sort of induction process.

Early in 2010, shortly after I started working at BERG, Matt Webb – being the wise and good company manager that he is – had me start compiling a checklist of all the things we needed to make sure happened when a new person joined us. At the time it was mostly geared toward short-term contractors since that’s mostly who were joining us in the spring and summer of 2010. Since then the list has grown and evolved and its focus has turned toward full contract employees. It seems like every time a new person comes on we think of two or three more things that need to be added to the list. The checklist is divided into four categories:

  1. Things the new employee needs to be provided with (keys, an email address, computer kit, access to the network server)
  2. Things the new employee needs to provide us with (biog and headshot for the website, details to get on payroll)
  3. Things the new employee needs to know (who everyone else is and what they do, general company policies, how to request holiday, location of the first aid kit)
  4. Admin that needs to happen (add their details to various spreadsheets, get them on payroll, add them to the blog rota)

I’ve been wondering if there’s anything else that we’re missing – other things we should be doing to ease new people into the BERG culture besides having a checklist. I had a quick browse around the internet which wasn’t particularly helpful – most of what I found was either blindingly obvious or not especially relevant for very small companies like BERG. I did stumble across a couple of things, though, that seemed relevant for companies of any size and worth sharing.

The first was from William H Truesdell who, in 1998, wrote on The Management Advantage Inc’s website:

Explain your organisation’s mission and its philosophy of doing business.

  • “The way we do things around here…”
  • “We believe that our customers are…”
  • “Nothing is more important than…”

Those would be good things for a company to think about and have an answer to even if they aren’t doing it for the sake of new employee organisation. It seems to me that last one in particular – “Nothing is more important than…” could give a lot of great insight in the space of just one sentence to a new person joining the organisation.

The second thing was from Alan Chapman on Chapman has quite a lot of material there about new employee orientation and training which emphasises ‘whole-person’ development, and he suggests saying something along these lines to a new employee:

“You’ve obviously been recruited as a (job title), but we recognise right from the start that you’ll probably have lots of other talents, skills, experiences (life and work), strengths, personal aims and wishes, that your job role might not necessarily enable you to use and pursue. So please give some thought to your own special skills and unique potential that you’d like to develop (outside of your job function), and if there’s a way for us to help with this, especially if we see that there’ll be benefits for the organisation too (which there often are), then we’ll try to do so…”

A little later he says,

So much of conventional induction training necessarily involves ‘putting in’ to people (knowledge, policies, standards, skills, etc); so if the employer can spend a little time ‘drawing out’ of people (aims, wishes, unique personal potential, etc) – even if it’s just to set the scene for ‘whole person development’ in the future – this will be a big breath of fresh air for most new starters.

Based on my experience, I think he’s probably right.

That’s a little bit of BERG’s still very new and very evolving New Employee Orientation story. If your company does anything interesting or creative for new employees that you’ve found to be helpful, fun, innovative, etc, we’d love to hear about it!

Week 307

It’s a short week in the UK, and so far the sun is shining on the three working days that make up week 307. We have two ill people (get well soon, James and Nick!), and everyone else is busy.

I have on my desk

  • Pantone Books
  • Alan Moore’s ‘Yuggoth Cultures (and other growths)’
  • print proofs
  • paper samples
  • a mock up of SVK
  • the biggest cup of tea in the office

I’ve been working on SVK and Weminuche this week, two very different projects.

SVK is a comic, written by Warren Ellis and drawn by Matt Brooker. BERG are publishing it – and you’ll be able to get hold of it online really soon.

As someone with a past involving magazines, it’s been fascinating to see the way a comic gets put together. I’m used to pre-agreed flatplans, to sending off pages out of sequence to the reader but in the right section order for printing, moving pages about when ads change. A comic is completely different. There’s a script first, roughs at different stages, a story that evolves. The evolution is amazing – as is watching Matt J’s reaction to each new page of artwork. Such a look of sheer delight you’d think he didn’t know what was coming. I’m very excited to see this printed – but I think we might need medical help for Jones.

Weminuche is a lot of fun, although I’m not allowed to talk about it. Between you and I, it currently involves moustaches and the possibility of a soul patch. This is an idea I’ve thrown into the mix, we’ll see if I can make it work. It means I get to look at facial hair on the internet, which is an area of research generally neglected by the Bergians in the past.

Other project work continues. Alex and Joe have been teaming up to work for a client we’ve code-named Uinta. (Is it just me, or do we seem to choose difficult-to-spell project names?) There’s been post it notes, discussion and a lot of progress made recently. Joe (sitting next to me) is currently creating some beautiful mock-ups of a world to come.

Timo, Jack, Matt J and Andy are starting to work for Chaco (another client code name). There’s a couple of projects on the go and ideas have been shared out loud for the past few weeks. It sounds like there’s a real opportunity for delight here, and I can’t wait to see how it all pans out.

Matt W has been catching up with everyone and planning current and future projects. He’s also been thinking about ways we can squeeze more desk space out of the office. It’s not an easy task. Kari has been helping him look for new studio space and generally keeping us all in order.

There’s a partitioned room in the office, which is where Andy is currently hiding. He’s knee deep in bits of physical hardware and says little when you drop in except ‘I think it’s time for ice-cream’.

I think he could be right.


Thursday links: melty roads, back-o-the-web, generative sound, isochronic maps and Vicky

As tomorrow is a holiday, the weekly BERG links post is coming to you one day early this week!

It’s been a rather quiet week on the BERG studio list, but we (where “we” mostly = Matt Jones) did manage to dig up some interesting things from the internets.

Jason Kottke linked to Clement Valla’s collection of “melty roads” – Google Earth images where the 2D-to-3D mapping doesn’t quite work. Browsing through the images invokes an Inception-like world.

Via Khoi Vinh we discovered the brilliant “Back of a Web Page” Tumblr. Ever wonder what those Twitter birds do behind the scenes?

One afternoon we heard some odd bloopy music coming over the studio speakers, and Matt Jones confessed he’d been playing with Batuhan Bozkurt’s Otomata, a generative sound sequencer.

Go over and have a play yourself!

Via Mike Migurski came Xiaoji Chen’s Isochronic Singapore. It’s fascinating to see the city of Singapore expand and contract like a living, breathing thing as average travel times change from hour to hour and day to day.

Chen has been playing with other dynamic maps of Singapore as well:

Finally, via our neighbour and RIG super group member Alex Deschamps-Sonsino, a list of Robots, Cyborgs and Computers in Film and TV. It seems that list hasn’t been updated in at least five years (and therefore actually feels rather short), but for me the best thing about it is it reminded me of something I had completely forgotten about: the TV show Small Wonder. Ah, mid-80s American family sitcoms. Most of them are best forgotten, actually…

Vicky the robot child!

Matt Jones speaking at Sci-Fi London Festival, 30th April – on SVK, and the work of Warren Ellis

I’m pleased to have been invited to speak at Sci-Fi London’s Comics day, on Saturday April 30th about the work of Warren Ellis – our Chairman-Emeritus and collaborator on SVK.

I’ll be alongside friend-of-BERG Matt Sheret and Ian Edginton (co-creator of such wonders as Stickleback, Leviathan and Scarlet Traces with frequent collaborator D’Israeli, co-creator of SVK).

I hope to show some sneak peaks of SVK as well as discussing the influence our dialog with Warren and comics in general have had on our studio.

Here’s the panel description from the Sci-Fi London site:

3.30pm – The work of Warren Ellis
Writer Ian Edginton (who collaborated with Ellis on X-Force), Matt Jones (principal, BERG design who commission Ellis’ new comic SVK) and Matthew Sheret (writer, whose love of comics started with Warren’s work) discuss the work of comic book / multimedia writer Warren Ellis who has penned some of the most influencial SF comics of the last twenty years.

Followed by 20 min preview screening of new documentary – “WARREN ELLIS: CAPTURED GHOSTS”

Week 306

Three of the last four weeks have seen at least part of the BERG team decamping to the States – California, then Oregon, then New York – for client meetings. This week, the most exotic place anyone is traveling for BERG work is Swindon. But mostly we’re all here. Which is nice.

Work on the two newest projects – Uinta and Chaco – is revving up. Matt Jones and Joe, the newest Bergian, have been furiously sketching on Uinta in order to wrap up the ideation phase for a presentation this afternoon. Over in the other room, Timo is doing sketching for Chaco.

Lots of people have their fingers in SVK: testing processes, wrangling adverts, solving problems, chasing quotes, and generally trying to get answers to lots and lots of questions that are still hanging in the air. Alex is doing a tremendous job of making sure we’re remembering what all those questions are that still need answering. We’re learning a whole lot about production, warehousing, promotion and sales – which was a big reason for doing this after all. And we’re kinda making up project management via trial and error as we go.

As I type, Jack, Nick, Denise and Alex have put their heads together to try to answer some more questions and make some more decisions around Weminuche. Elsewhere Andy is updating Gantt charts and chasing manufacturers to get production quotes. This is a long project with a lot of little exciting developments along the way. And as with SVK, there’s lots and lots of learning happening almost daily.

This week it’s Nick’s turn to do interviewing: we’re hoping to add another creative technologist to our midst soon. Project manager interviews are wrapping up this week. And since the addition of two more team members means we’ll be busting out of our lovely little space here on Scrutton Street, Matt Webb has just been out having a look at some potential new space. And I’ve been trawling the internet looking for more options. (My conclusion: there are waaaaay too many websites that promise to help you find office space in London, and the vast majority of them are rubbish. At least for our purposes.) As Matt said on Twitter today, “What I’d really like is someone in East London with a spare massive loft. Anyone?”

Today there were cupcakes to celebrate Matt Jones’ birthday (which is technically tomorrow). I suspect there may be more food later as RIG are hosting a Tupperware party next door. Awesome.

Outside the sky is bright blue and the sun is shining brilliantly. It’s the hottest day of the year so far. I predict, based on the weather forecast, that this week will include plenty of Silicon Carpark lunches and Magnums.

Friday Links: Superpowers, vintage handhelds, Gregorian code chanting and Computer Vision

Here are a few things of note which have been posted to the BERG studio mailing list this week.

Superpowers Poster

Matt Jones linked to a lovely poster from Pop Chart Lab, which organises and visualises the taxonomy of super-hero and super-villan powers. For instance, Powers of the Body/Superhuman Ability/Super Strength shows itself to be a highly populous category, but Weapons Based/Powered Prostheses/Armored Suit/Armored Suit with Telescopic Legs less so, highlighting a possible Darwin Awards subtext to it all.


Aerogun Field handheld game

Alex linked to Pica-Pic, a Flash site which lovingly recreates vintage 80’s handheld electronic games from around the world.


Matt Webb linked to a page detailing an algorithm for calculating exactly when Easter falls in the Gregorian calendar, which itself is a republishing of an anonymous correspondant in Nature, from April 1876. Hot pseudocode is hot!


And finishing on a video, Matt Jones also linked to this clever idea demonstrated on an iPad 2, marrying up a 3d engine with facial tracking from the front-facing camera. Have a great weekend, folks!

A few Thursday delights

There have been several things that have come across my radar via the Twittersphere this week that I’ve found charming and delightful. I’ve not come up with a coherent narrative for them, though, so I’m just going to list them a la a links post. Bonus points if you can connect them in the comments!

Via my very handicrafty friend @thatdeangirl I discovered The High Church of Gaming. Here are some beautiful kneeling pads which incorporate imagery from Super Mario, Zelda and Sonic the Hedgehog and bring together two things that almost never go together: religion and video gaming.

Another friend @dankauf tweeted a link to the gorgeous and fascinating project / live show The Ice Book. It uses light and projection to tell a story on a pop-up book:

The Ice Book (HD) from Davy and Kristin McGuire on Vimeo.

According to the McGuires, “It tells the story of a mysterious princess who lures a boy into her magical world to warm her heart of ice. It is made from sheets of paper and light, designed to give a live audience an intimate and immersive experience of film, theatre, dance, mime and animation.”

And finally, via @iainarcher, Nano Guitar! Created in 2003 by scientists at Cornell University, it’s 10 microns long and has six strings that are played by targeting them with miniature lasers creating one of the highest sounds every recorded. And really, why not?

Week 305

After a fairly quiet start to the week on Monday, it’s suddenly feeling a lot like normal service has resumed. With Matt W, Jack, Matt J and Timo out last week, the rest of us has a quiet, industrious time here. Now we’re back to levels of energy and activity in the room which make this such a unique and brilliant place to work.

Matt Webb is spending a good deal of this week interviewing candidates for our Project Manager role, and he and I have been chatting about the upcoming interviews next week, for the Creative Technologist position. Kari is making the interview process into a wonderfully efficient machine, booking the interview times, and collating all the CVs.

Hiring is a good thing for us right now, and new people will allow us to scale our work, but it brings with it very urgent questions of how we scale physically. Once we’ve filled these two roles, our ratio of staff to desks will tip over one, and somebody will be bumped onto the sofa until we find a new office. Either that, or we go for Plan B, the BERG mezzanine floor!

Speaking of new people, our office is now home to the fantastic Joe Malia, and as I write this, he’s busy getting his neural pathways tuned to the special Schulze wavelength. Schulze and Timo are in NYC for a brief spell of work that will keep them out of the country all week. Denise and Alex are busy working on preparing the shop for SVK, and Denise is also spending time on Weminuche, absorbing all of the unspoken potential of the project, and sketching beautiful pixels to capture and express them.

Andy spent some time at the National Electronics Week in Birmingham this week, and if we had a sweepstake for “person most likely to be wielding a soldering iron”, he’d win by a very comfortable margin. Back at his desk, he’s been pouring over schematics for circuit boards and helping me wire up various development boards together, also for the Weminuche project.

Last, but by no means least, Matt Jones is kicking off the studio portion of project Uinta with Joe, and is also giving the closing keynote on the first day of UX London 2011. This is week 305!

Welcome Joe Malia!

More welcomes this week…

I’m very happy to announce that we’ve added Joe Malia‘s biological distinctiveness to the BERG collective!

Isle de Re

Joe is a contemporary of Schulze, Matt Brown and James King from the RCA Design Interactions course, and since then has been working as a design ronin on research and software projects for Nokia, KPMG, Sony Ericsson, Luckybite, Beta Tank, IDEO and Deutsche Bank.

Though I’m perhaps most fond of this piece of his work – a drawing of “Ever-more complicated light switches” that he did for me in the 17th hour of the “24hr Drawathon” he staged with Alice Hoult last year…

Joe Malia's "Ever-more complicated series of lightswitches"

Welcome Joe!

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