Fly on the wall: “if the scientists ever cross a rat and an octopus, we’re screwed” Matt 23 Mar 2006

39 comments Latest by Mario

Some of the activity this week at our internal 37signals Campfire chat room:

David said guiding his parents remotely through an isight “is the most infuriating experience ever. I have immense respect for anyone who can work a computer hotline. I was ready for suicide a few times. but its also an interesting experience just how much we take for granted.” Marcel said, “it used to make me soooo frustrated to have to guide my parents to do stuff on their computer. i had to resort to the most basic instruction set. i couldn’t say ‘browser’ or ‘close your browser’…i would have to say, ‘in the top right corner of that big rectangle on your screen, there are three buttons, one of which is red.’” Jason chimed in: “My parents call windows ‘squares’ which made it REALLY confusing for me the first time I tried to help them and buttons are ‘ovals’ or ‘things.’”

Wise Ryan gave Marcel some advice on dealing with needy support requesters: “one trick with people who keep writing you is to get shorter and shorter with your response…they feed on the energy they get back from you” He also told me that sometimes it’s better not to explain decisions: “when you give people a reason, the next thing they do is come up with why that reason isn’t good, or how to get around it, ad nauseum…until finally you say ‘listen, we really don’t care about that right now, ok?’”

This photo of Jason, David, and Ryan from Businessweek drew some fire from Marcel: “ryan is looking through the camera into its soul…little known fact: jason’s parents trained him gruelingly from a young age with those face muscle excerising videos so he’d grow up to one day have a killer million dollar smile…ryan’s parents, on the other hand, made him read Schopenhauer.”

Jason pondered why companies with lots of VC cash still churn out bad designs and said, “Money can buy talent but it can’t buy you passion, motivation, or curiosity.”

David is The Hottest Hacker on Earth according to Wired which is “fucking hilariously awesome” according to Marcel. Jason loved the Wired piece but doesn’t understand why Wired hasn’t done a huge piece on Rails yet. David’s response: “Give them 6 months ;)” Meanwhile, David said he’s gearing up for his next career as a Gap model. Marcel responded, “Now excuse me while i go rent out some warehouse space near the office for your ego…”

Marcel: “btw, oranges are awesome. beautiful and delicious. let’s make something as beautiful and delicious as an orange.”

We know someone (who wishes to remain unnamed) that had a meeting with a VC guy last week. The VC dude actually said this sentence: “My goal wants to be to help you accelerate what your strategic intent is.”

We discussed Google’s new finance site. Some comments: “i think it’s cool how they linked the news articles with the graph.” “What I like about it is that you can just enter a company name in the box. you don’t need to know the stock symbol. took like 10 years to get that. amazing.” “i like how when you scroll the graph, the news story section auto scrolls too…also, the rollovers in the Management section are nice.” And we wish good luck to these Google moderators: “It will also link to discussions on Web logs about specific companies. The service will offer its own bulletin-board discussions on financial topics. The boards will be moderated by a new group of Google employees hired to ensure the quality of the discussions…”

We received this nice letter:

I wanted to drop a note to let you know that you’re doing good work and helping your users produce measurable results.

In October I started a new position as a UI designer. Like many new hires, I was eager to make a good first impression on my boss and my colleagues. After much reading about Basecamp, I signed up for the free level. As my responsibilities ballooned, I quickly landed on the $24 / month plan.

My six month review was last week, and I received a 10% raise, plus some other company-specific rewards. Without Basecamp, there is NO WAY I could have kept up the pace and performed as well at such a consistent manner. Needless to say, the $144 I’ve paid for Basecamp has paid for itself.

Someone started a Basecamp forum called “Why Doesn’t the API have Feature xxx??? I need xxx!” in order to “get the ball rolling.”

Marcel and David are excited for Dabble (video). Jason thinks Dabble looks nice in the demo but thinks the UI is messy and confusing (“the UI just feels really heavy — more chrome than data”). David says general DB software has to be complex to a certain degree.

We find this screen at rather similar to this screen at the Writeboard site.

Jason (who went to school in Tuscon): “man, listening to Calexico takes me back to AZ” Marcel: “yeah…always makes me feel like i’m driving down a desert highway at sunset…remote and eerie.”

Jason and Jamis dig laser levels. Marcel and I like it when you just get to use the nails left by old tenants.

You hear weird things on TV. Marcel heard this on a Dish network ad: “Nothing is worse than paying too much for television”. Sure, the war in Iraq, the genocide in Darfur, and the destruction of Katrina may be bad…but nothing is worse than paying too much for television. Also: “I know you. You have rheumatoid arthritis” is the first line in an ad I saw for some prescription drug. Whoa, I had no idea. I am now considering moving to Florida.

Jason changed the room’s quote/topic to: “You can accomplish anything you want in life provided you don’t mind who gets the credit.” -Harry S Truman

Sam uploaded this “People-ready?” image and said, “it’s the ‘FIND OUT’ that makes me laugh.”

Jamis is hooked on cadbury cream eggs…”it’s a good thing they only come out once a year.” Ryan: “those are evil.” Jamis: “evil is an understatement.”

Ryan prefers discussions that focus around “what Could be versus what Should be…people making suggestions always say what SHOULD be done instead of what COULD be done…it’s also good within teams as well to show possibilities and options instead of stomping the foot about necessities.”

Mitch Hedberg and Stephen Wright jokes made the rounds:

MH: I mumble a lot on stage, I’m a mumblerer. But sometimes what I mumble is some insignificant shit. Like I’ll be walking down the street with my friend, and I will have said something, but he didn’t hear me, so he says “What!?” SO I’ll say it again, and again he had not heard me, so he’d say, “What!?” And now by this time I am yelling “That tree is very far away!”

MH: My friend asked me if I wanted a frozen bananna, and I said NO, but I’m gonna want a regular bananna later, so YEAH.

SW: I have a hobby…I have the world’s largest collection of sea shells. I keep it scattered on beaches all over the world. Maybe you’ve seen some of it…

SW: I went down the street to the 24-hour grocery. When I got there, the guy was locking the front door. I said, “Hey, the sign says you’re open 24 hours.” He said, “Yes, but not in a row.”

Jason on home renovations: “I’ve got this little old polish guy here doing some work. dude is probably like 60, built like a tank. and he’s working with this mexican guy. they don’t speak each other’s language. and they call each other by their homeland. ‘Poland, can you…’ and ‘Mexico, will you…’ Jamis responded, “haha, agile :)”

Tim O’Reilley was on stage with Bill Gates this week and 37signals was part of one of Tim’s questions. Alas, when question time came, 37signals wasn’t actually mentioned.

Marcel reported there have been over half a million text messages on campfire so far and over 1 million total messages.

Jason noted this blog post about Riya:

Now back to the hard work to building a company. BTW we need to hire some absolute rockstars in Business Development, Finance (a Controller to mind the money), a Revenue Manager (CPC Advertising expert - if you have to ask what CPC is don’t apply…;-), and a few additional researchers for our super smart Riya Labs which is now (unconfirmed) the largest team of computer vision Ph.Ds in any single company in the country.

Jason’s response: “OH GAWD…See what VC does to you? We need to hire Biz Dev, “Revenue Manager” “Controller” ;) unless that’s a joke. I can’t tell anymore.” I don’t think it was a joke.

The Trump baby NY Post cover made me laugh out loud.

File upload limits were discussed and a simple solution was figured out…
Ryan: what are we trying to avoid with a limit? won’t a gigantic file just time out anyway?
Jason: thats’ the problem. “Why didn’t my file transfer work?” “What happened to the file I uploaded” “Why didn’t the upload finish?”
Ryan: less software idea..we could just say there’s a limit. and then if people try something bigger and it works, then good for them
Jason: I like that best. done.

Ryan changed the room’s topic to “Most of the wonderful places in the world were not made by architects but by the people.” -Christopher Alexander

Jason loves this quote: “The Universe is difficult to comprehend because it is obvious” -Albert Einstein

Jamis: “so, I’ve been reading Winnie the Pooh to my son at naptime, and came across this gem today (from Chapter 8 of ‘The House at Pooh Corner’)…Winnie the Pooh was written as much for adults to read as kids, I think :)”…
“Rabbit’s clever,” said Pooh thoughtfully.
“Yes,” said Piglet, “Rabbit’s clever.”
“And he has Brain.”
“Yes,” said Piglet. “Rabbit has Brain.”
There was a long silence.
“I suppose,” said Pooh, “that that’s why he never understands anything.”

Marcel offered these expressionistic representations of what it’s like to wade through support email.

Finally, there was a completely ridiculous conversation where Jason admitted to ordering a BB gun to hunt rats in his backyard. “They hang really close until I come near so I can hit them from my second floor window and they’ll never know what hit them. I ordered an orange hat too.” We also discussed the remarkable traits of rats (Ryan: “if the scientists ever cross a rat and an octopus, we’re screwed.”). Btw, Jason’s first attempt was throwing boiling water at the rats. “That didn’t work…that was stupid,” according to Jason. He will report back next week when the gun arrives and said he “may stuff the rat head and hang it on my wall.” We eagerly anticipate further reports from Elmer, er, Jason.

39 comments so far (Jump to latest)

John Lewis 23 Mar 06

Jargon is your enemy when you are trying to help family with their technology problems. The first thing you have to do is establish terminology. Their going to have their own names for everything… so you have to ask “What do you see?” And when they say something like boxes you have to figure out they mean windows. Let’s face facts… they are more like boxes than windows.

So once you have their jargon down, you can assist them with their problems.

Don Wilson 23 Mar 06

“Jason chimed in: �My parents call windows �squares� which made it REALLY confusing for me the first time I tried to help them and buttons are �ovals� or �things.��”

Ha. My grandma called them tiles which made things significantly harder to explain how to close a window.

Carlo 23 Mar 06

Dabble looks amazing! Finally, a killer web spreadsheet/db app! The interface looks great, I’m almost skeptical that it’s running in a web browser. I like how they incorporated the Lightbox dialogue instead of using a popup. And the linking of the fields is a huge feature. It’s like bringing relational databases to the unwashed Excel masses.

Adam Michela 23 Mar 06

Word on the street is, that page at Jotspot hit the wires before Writeboard…

Can we get some official launch dates here people? ;)

MM 23 Mar 06

Carlo, just some trivia: the actual implementation happens to be an object database, not a relational database.

Nick 23 Mar 06

I wouldn’t have someone who wanted to accelerate my strategic intent :)

Carlo, my problem is when people (not knowing what they’re doing) use a relational database when a spreadsheet is a better choice.

Nick 23 Mar 06

I wouldn’t have someone who wanted to accelerate my strategic intent :)

Carlo, my problem is when people (not knowing what they’re doing) use a relational database when a spreadsheet is a better choice.

TDD 23 Mar 06

The Dabble demo just rocks. I’m eagerly surfing their site now. This is a very strong case for smart AJAX use, I think.

Andrew Catton 23 Mar 06

* Carlo and TDD


* Matt

True, it does use an object database, though it would still be fair to call Dabble a small-‘r’ relational database, since it does support to-one and to-many relations in both directions. It just doesn’t require the nasty big-‘R’ stuff like primary and foreign keys, or join tables.

* Nick

Agreed. We’re trying to help solve the inverse problem, where people use spreadsheets when they should be using DBs — primarily calculation: use a spreadsheet, primarily tracking: use a DB..

JF 23 Mar 06

Word on the street is, that page at Jotspot hit the wires before Writeboard�

Wrong. Writeboard launched October 3rd, 2005 (6 months ago). Tracker launched in January of 06.

I emailed Joe Kraus at Jot twice about this and never heard back. Then I emailed someone else that works at Jot and they admitted “it’s very similar, yes” and “the designer of this site is very inspired by 37signals.”

Adam Michela 23 Mar 06

My JotSource: “That page on was up at least three months before Writeboard”.


Thanks for the dates though J, that ‘bout quelches it.

I suppose if you inquired and received no response you have a valid complaint. Although I’m not sure that this crosses the line between forgery and flattery.

expert rat hunter 23 Mar 06

Killing a rat with a bb gun isn’t a one shot one kill affair. I know. BBs are too smooth to cause enough damage to the organs as it passes through the body. You might want to try pellets.

Once I shot a rat in the face with a BB and it was still alive for a good 15 minutes, blood squirting all over the place. It’s jaw was completely missing yet his will to live was not. I had to finish him off with rubber mallet in order to send him to the other side.

I apologize for being so graphic. I just want to give you warning as to what you will experience. Killing rats in this manner will change who you are. You will be a killer soon… and mercy will become distant word spoken by the lips of strangers.

Are you prepared to be a rat hunter?

JF 23 Mar 06

My JotSource: �That page on was up at least three months before Writeboard�.

Oh, that’s rich. Wow. Amazing to hear that after the conversation I had with people at Jot about this.

Ryan Ripley 23 Mar 06

@expert rat hunter: Chuck… Chuck Norris… is that you?

JF 23 Mar 06

Yeah, I was planning on using pellets instead of BBs.

Andy 23 Mar 06

Hey guys, I really like these kinds of posts. In some way, it makes the people behind the company very “human” and friendly.

mitch 23 Mar 06

“The hottest hacker on earth”

Wow, thats one freaking awesome compliment.

Rabbit 23 Mar 06

@ Andy — I totally agree! Plus, they speak a similar language to me and my group of hoodlum friends! XD

Eliot 23 Mar 06

I gave up on trying to help people over the phone. I have grown quite affectionate to RDP, VNC, GoToMeeting, and the like. I can fix things so much quicker and easier by seeing the screen instead of trying to say things just right or ask the right questions.

Sam 23 Mar 06

Once I shot a rat in the face with a BB and it was still alive for a good 15 minutes

When I typed in, this was the last thing I expected to read… and still be on-topic.

eli sarver 23 Mar 06

My favourite commercial:

EVERYONE loves the look of bright beeeautiful floodlights!

We do? When I think ‘floodlight’ I don’t think ‘beautiful’ I think ‘prison’.

Jeff Martin 23 Mar 06

Several people have commented on the rat shooting topic, yet no one has expressed shock at the fact that someone has enough rats in their backyard to justify buying a BB gun. Or that they are big enough to see and shoot from a 2nd floor window! I admit, I’ve sat on my back porch and shot moles with a .22 (which I had to be careful where I was aiming, so I wouldn’t hit the goats), but if I had that many big rats, I’d look at moving.

JF 23 Mar 06

re: rats

Unfortunately in Chicago you can keep your property nice and clean, but your neighbors may not. Until fences can be airtight, the little buggers can come though.

And they love setting up shop by burrowing into any patch of dirt they can find.

Erik J. Barzeski 23 Mar 06

“in the top right corner of that big rectangle on your screen, there are three buttons, one of which is red.”

All these comments and nobody’s asked what red button in the top-right is? On my Mac, they’re on the top left… and since Windows usually doesn’t have red buttons and you’re setting up an iSight, I’m gonna assume you meant left. ;-)

Tony 23 Mar 06

Windows XP has a red close button on the default “fischer price” theme. And, it could be that the person doing the directing is on the iSight, not the one being directed.

Nick 23 Mar 06

Dude, boiling water???? Hahaha. That is the best.

Lars 24 Mar 06

The Winnie-the-pooh mentioned is only one example. This book is stuffed by wisdom. Actually Rabit might have been stuffed by something different than Piglet and Pooh. The same goes for Owl (stuffed). There are no rats in the book, but it would probably been as smart as Owl and Rabit.

Pooh and Aristotles has in many ways the same aproach to get people reflect - the put themselfes in the place of the stupid, and ask people/animals to answer questions they themselfes (obviously) got the/an answer to.

My favorite quote: “You can’t help respecting anybody who can spell TUESDAY, even if he doesn’t spell it right; but spelling isn’t everything. There are days when spelling Tuesday simply doesn’t count.”

AndyToo 24 Mar 06

On the Jot vs 37s debacle: I�m afraid if I were at Jot I�d be telling 37s where to stick it. You think you invented the �these are some things you can do with our product� idea? Come on, Get Real.

As for the design, it doesn�t look that much like Writeboard, any more than any other web 2.0 stylee site does. (and more fool Jot for admitting their designer liked 37s, which only leads 37s to burble �they ripped our idea!�)

Anonymous Coward 24 Mar 06

“You think you invented the �these are some things you can do with our product� idea?”

I don’t think that is what 37s is claiming. They are talking about the look/design of that page. Where else does Jot have a page that looks like that? Big centered list of text just like the Writeboard page? Look and you’ll see.

Anonymous Coward 24 Mar 06

Come on AndyToo. Out of all the thousands of ways to design an example uses page, Jot’s page just happens to look just like 37signals page? A long list of big centered text. Please. Inspiration is one thing but ripping someone’s design off is another. Jot should be creative enough to come up with their own layout.

David fan 24 Mar 06

I’m glad to see that David is finally getting some recognition for his looks. “Sex God” are the words that spring to mind.

vinbarnes 24 Mar 06

I think your best course of action re: rats is to get an animal that will gobble them up - think, ‘Less Hardware’. A terrier, a cat or a snake even. Best of luck.

vinbarnes 24 Mar 06

Sorry to pepper your comments corkboard, but this was _too_ coincidental not to point 37s to re: Sam’s love of People-Ready:

” Forbes Says Vista Not People Ready”

Matt Lee 24 Mar 06

If you’re looking for a great way to support your parents and you’re both running Windows, FogCreek have which is meant to solve this.

Now, who’s going to make the version so I can support my Mother’s iMac G3 running Panther from my Ubuntu PPC desktop?

Jerod 27 Mar 06

A long list of big centered text. Please. Inspiration is one thing but ripping someone�s design off is another. Jot should be creative enough to come up with their own layout.

Ok, so nobody can have a long list of big centered text anymore because 37signals has exclusive rights to it. Anything else to add to the list of forbidden designs?

You can’t possibly be serious. Get off the high horse. Designs on the web are constantly recycled, borrowed, stolen, . It’s always been that way. Are we now acting surprised when it happens? Or is it just bad when it happens to *you*?

Mario 30 Mar 06

I can’t believe I’m the only one here whose mention that shooting rats, or pouring boiling water on them, is insanely cruel. Not living where you do I won’t comment on whether or not it is somehow necessary to deal with rats, nor whether there are better means, but at the very least I would think their deaths are not a topic for humor.

Why am I consistently in the minority of people who think humans aren’t the only species worth caring about? It strikes me as basic logic…

KBot3030 30 Mar 06

First of all Rats are gross and you can believe they would torture us if they had a chance. Rats != Cute_Bunnies.

Second - check out with free web conferencing software that allows you to do one on one desktop sharing for free. (I’m not affiliated but I pull my hair out trying to provide support too)

Third- good artists copy others work and great artists steal. mimicry is the highest form of flattery, and since your work is out there for everyone to see- if you don’t want people to copy it then put a (c) around it and sue the hell out of them- or admit that your ideas came from someone else (Tufte, some other designers, Darwin, whatever) and accept that you copied them too. ha - maybe I’ll write a digital manifesto too?

Mario 30 Mar 06

KBot3030, I think you’re ugly. So there. Can I shoot you now? :P