N ew words enter my vocabulary all the time. It’s the fluid nature of language that led me to select journalism as my college major a billion years ago, so I greet new terms and phrases with glee. Predictably, the origin of many new words can be traced directly back to the slapdash juggernaut called the internet. Take the new word “hackathon,” for example.

A few days ago, I didn’t know what a hackathon was. It sounds like a party thrown by people in safari hats who want to use machetes to chart a course through a dense rain forest. I was wrong. It’s apparently got something to do with technology, and there will be one in Boulder called the Sphero Hack Tour this weekend. Since I have a nose for news and a tongue for tech, I took to the streets to investigate.

“In this context, ‘hack’ means the style of programming, not its purpose,” said Scott Lininger, senior software engineer at Google, which is partnering with local startup Orbotix to host the event at its Boulder office. “During a hackathon, participants are focused on doing things fast, not doing them necessarily well. When you’re hacking, or doing a ‘hack job,’ you’re writing a lot of code that you might not keep in the long run, but which works fine for a demo.”

This particular hackathon revolves around a product known as Sphero, developed by Orbotix. Sphero is a small robotic ball that users can manipulate using software. Readers may have seen a popular YouTube video of President Barack Obama playing with Sphero during his recent visit to Boulder. Orbotix is dangling $12 thousand worth of prize money over the heads of the hackathon’s attendees in the hope that one of them will create an application that can improve upon their existing Sphero lineup of seven apps.

“We’re giving away a lot of money, so this will attract top-notch devs,” said Ross Ingram, developer program manager at Orbotix. “However, we’ll have our team of software engineers to help out with any technical problems, as well as helping with idea creation.”

As I learned more about the event, I realized that it’s totally for nerds and that that’s totally awesome. It’s a bit like getting friends together to help you fix an old car, except you’re building instead of fixing. It’s worth pointing out, however, that not just anyone can expect to contribute to the event.

“In general, folks should have enough programming experience to create a simple Android or iOS app,” Lininger said. That means if you don’t know how to write code, this is not the event for you.

Ingram said that the Sphero Hack Tour will continue through November in various cities in the U.S., but they wanted to kick things off on their home turf. With Boulder’s abundance of tech events and resources, it seems like an excellent addition to the landscape.

“Boulder has an amazing tech community,” Ingram said. “We’ve had a few other smaller events, but decided to step it up for this one. Boulder is our home and the perfect place to start our hack tour.”

To learn more about the event and register, visit The free event begins on Friday evening, May 4, at Google’s Boulder office.

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