Fly on the wall: “serene but unforgiving” Matt 30 Mar 2006

40 comments Latest by noah

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

Less software strikes again: How does Campfire distinguish between pasted and not pasted copy? It checks for the new line character since that’s normally not present when you’re just randomly typing. A customer said, “Damn that’s genius!” Marcel’s response: “‘genius’…also known as, simple.”

Ryan had a thought: “A functional spec is a map to a place you have never been. It’s like drawing a map and commiting to a route of a place you have not even set foot on.”

Marcel has a lot of books. But that sucks when you move (each one of those boxes was “probably like 70 pounds” acc to Marcel). Ryan reads a ton but then gets rid of most of his books since he only comes back to about ten. On the other hand, I think a home without books is missing something. Books tell a story on their own, “exposing part of your brain and past” as Ryan put it. True that. I have fond memories of flipping through the pages of different books on my parent’s bookshelves when i was a kid. Ya can’t do that with a PDF. Plus, books are a very cool interior design element.

Marcel offered yet more “proof” that Wikipedia is full of misinformation after checking out a Star Trek related entry: “‘In the Star Trek fictional universe’ FICTIONAL Q#@@@#??? pfft, Wikipedia is dead to me.”

Ryan is a straight up Christoper Alexander junkie. First, he changed the room’s topic to this CA quote: “In order to create living structure, we must please ourselves.” Then Ryan mentioned this quote too: “Once again, when we come to the creation of things by people, the form this unfolding takes, always, is step by step to please yourself. We cannot perform the unfolding process without knowing how to please ourselves — truly. And if we know how to please ourselves truly, why then the process of unfolding and the fundamental process follow from this pleasing of oneself, as night follows day.” Poetic, eh? Then Ryan posted these photos so we could all see how pretty vol. 4 of CA’s The Nature of Order book is. Then Ryan said, “I want to have Christopher Alexander’s babies.” Ok, that last part isn’t true.

If Ryan ever writes a CSS book, these will be on the cover:


C’mon Feel the Signalz is Khoi Vinh’s thoughtful review of Getting Real. Khoi’s a great writer and it’s worth a read. We were distracted, though, by one thread commenter who called Jason rude. Ryan just doesn’t get that. David’s theory: “We’re living in a society of hyper-courtesy…Everything must be distanced and deprecated before it’s uttered.” Ryan’s response: “ridic…people are so afraid of the present moment that anyone who says something honest is ‘mean.’ it’s crazy. making painful software is mean.” I liked that last line a lot. And I responded at the thread to the commenter: “We like people who say what they mean, have strong opinions, and don’t apologize for it. So that’s the way we talk too. Obsessing over being polite, inoffensive, and mature is nice but also a bit dull. So we choose a different path. If ya don’t like it, feel free to stop reading.” asked, “In 10 years what will be the most significant impact of Jason Fried and 37signals?” Ryan’s answer? “Decreased rat population.”

Ryan continued his Secrets to Successful Support tutorial. This week’s lesson: When something goes wrong, “Respond right away…tell them we’re sorry, we’re working on it, and we’ll be back up as soon as we can…better to respond early without info and apologize.” The result is emails back like this one: “Wow, that is the fastest response I’ve ever received with a company via email. Thanks and keep up the awesome work with Basecamp!”

Marcel is teaching a friend Rails. His friend’s loving it and said, “if you would like to start wearing sandals, grow a fu-manchu and be my serene but unforgiving rails sensei, then I would love to be a grasshopper.”

I commented on how this guy totally improved the SvN color scheme. The orange/blue/yellow text color combination — nothing says legibility like yellow text on a white background — is gonna be all the rage once Web 3.0 hits.

Jamis’ wife sent him this:

O proud left foot, that ventures quick within;
Then soon upon a backward journey lithe.
Anon, once more the gesture then begin:
Command sinistral pedestal to writhe.
Commence thou then the fervid Hokey-Poke,
A mad gyration, hips in wanton swirl.
To spin! A wilde release from heaven’s yoke.
Blessed dervish! Surely thou canst go, girl.
The Hokey, the Pokey — banish now thy doubt.
Verily, I say, ‘tis what it is all about.

We’re skipping nametags at this week’s Getting Real conference. Jason said, “They’ve always felt sort of juvenile anyway…let people introduce themselves.”

Ryan is not a fan of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. Every time he sees G-Rod on TV, he’s “waiting for him to take his face off…it’s totally like one of those reagan masks…The guy has too much hair too.” Jason concurred: “That guy so creeps me out.” I just can’t believe media people actually call him G-Rod. I vote for killing the whole -Rod/-Lo/-Jo suffixed nickname thing.

Marcel changed the room’s topic to “By pushing a precise but inadequate formulation to an unacceptable conclusion, we can often expose the exact source of the inadequacy and, consequently, gain a deeper understanding.” -Noam Chomsky

Marcel digs BBC News Hour: “Borderline astounding is how the reporters on BBC World Report are orders of magnitude more aggressive in their interviews than those with NPR.” Ryan, a former NPR fan, has soured on the station: “The more i listen to it, the more i feel like i’m sitting in on at a whiney book club or something.”

And finally, a nice email (from a hotshot CEO-type no less) was posted for all to feel good about:

I just wanted to thank you for Basecamp—it is the single most useful Web application I have ever used and it has fundamentally changed the way I manage my business activities. Basecamp is my hub, not just my project management hub, but my business/relationship/product/project/workstream management hub.

40 comments so far (Jump to latest)

the typer 30 Mar 06

dosnt work! if i type randomly and press return..there are also newLineCharacter !?!?!???

Sam 30 Mar 06

dosnt work! if i type randomly and press return..there are also newLineCharacter !?!?!???

when you’re chatting do you usualyl press return when you *don’t* mean to send a message?

Btw, that’s a lot of question marks.

Adi 30 Mar 06

Hi david, jason, ryan and folks,
recently i donated $19 to 37signals. Yes i baught the book.

Its good. Though the “What we do is right, what you do sucks” tone gets to your nervesat times .

Iit seems folks at 37signals are functional spec haters to the core. Though a functional spec written well can be as good as bible.

A one page summary is good when you are 10 people who know each others talents but wht happens when you are working on a multi million dollar project with a distributed team of members who are gonna keep changing?.

for the folks who read this and decide not to buy gettingreal after this: Buy it!. Would be foolish to take it as bible but it makes a lot of sense if you are a start up or planning for one especialy web apps.

For folks at 37sig: Good job bt a bit of humility wldnt hurt wld it?;)

- Adi

haXXXor 30 Mar 06

“A one page summary is good when you are 10 people who know each others talents but wht happens when you are working on a multi million dollar project with a distributed team of members who are gonna keep changing?.”

like the “hacker of the year” says: 2 designers and 1 coder.
fpr millionDollarProjects just use a real tool…not that limited clickClickFramework with a 30 years obsolete scriptlanguage. just my cup of tea

ruby is on rails…but we take you everywhere u want!

haXXXor 30 Mar 06

“humility”? muahahaaaa…have seen the “ROR mastermind” in a video: poor hacker like million other PHP noobs…cant use his own framework properly…shame! ;)

btw., frameworks are for girls

Cooper 30 Mar 06

I’m going to assume English class is for girls too.

Chad 30 Mar 06

�A functional spec is a map to a place you have never been. It�s like drawing a map and commiting to a route of a place you have not even set foot on.�

I like that.

Creating a functional spec is like planning a trip to Neverland. Just think happy thoughts and you’ll magically end up there!

Wilson Miner 30 Mar 06

“A functional spec is a map to a place you have never been. It�s like drawing a map and commiting to a route of a place you have not even set foot on.”

I think that illuminates perfectly the reason functional specs are considered necessary in large companies and considered a burden in small teams. If you’re leading 50 people into an undiscovered country, and you have to convince the entire court of Spain and Portugal to fund your expedition, then you’re going to hire a bunch of guys with sextants to plot out your journey and guess where all the gold is. If you’re 5 guys in a boat, you’re just going to set sail and head west until you find land.

RS 30 Mar 06

Great point Wilson.

Chuck 30 Mar 06

“We�re skipping nametags at this week�s Getting Real conference.”

What happens when you introduce yourself to 25 people and can’t remember all their names? Without the tag you hace to avoid names (and thus never really remember them) or use other stupid nick names.

Name tags don’t stop people from introducing themselves as Jason suggested, they just make it easier to remember everyone’s name at the end of the event.

steve 30 Mar 06

i dont like this rails_cheese made by raised up and hyped wannabe-nerds. there are 10000 better products out there!

Travis Schmeisser 30 Mar 06

That functional spec quote is great! Client ammo for better convincing - thanks guys!

Jeff Croft 30 Mar 06

I, for one, am getting really sick of stumbling across threads on blogs only to find that Wilson Miner has already made my point — only 100 times more elloquently than I ever could have.

Can someone please kick that guy off the internet?


der 30 Mar 06

ihr stinkt!

Dallas Pool 30 Mar 06

Steve: From the outside looking in, you will never understand. From the inside looking out, you can only try to explain. Until you experience the wondrous joy that is elegant coding with Rails, you will never be one with your systems. Their will never be knowledge of secured functionality through functional tests, only hack and hope methods of a tired language.

But it’s not too late, Steve. You can be saved. You can join us and experience Rails Nirvana. You too can enjoy the simplicity of elegance. The beauty of a DRY framework that does not box you in. And bask in the illustrious light of a new era in web application design.

Join us, won’t you?

[Was that too cheesy? I feel I may have overdone it.]

Erin 30 Mar 06

Ryan: �A functional spec is a map to a place you have never been.�

We frequently go places we’ve never been to, and maps are a critical part of getting there quickly and easily. So I don’t really understand your comparison.

I’m wondering if you meant “a map OF a place you have never been.” That would make more sense in this context.

Adam Michela 30 Mar 06

Matt, seems more and more like people with strong opinions are exactly the ones you don’t like. Unless they prop you of course ;)

Danno 30 Mar 06

Do you guys document anything? Or do you just keep logs of all your conversations so you can look back at them if you forget about something?

Serious question.

JF 30 Mar 06

Our conversations are our documentation. It’s documentation we’re writing anyway.

Daniel 30 Mar 06

That guy with the SvN style (only uglified) blog (and main page) is funny:

One of todays entries quotes Steve Forbes on “the human mind, the human spirit, the human imagination”.

Imagination, right?

(And then he asks for respectful comments …)

Brooks Jordan 30 Mar 06

My guess is that at a lot of people misunderstand why 37signals doesn’t use a functional spec. If Ryan Singer is really using something approaching architect Christopher Alexander’s process from the “The Nature of Order” series to design their applications, then it’s not about “no spec, just do it.” It’s not either of these two things, the process they’re using is something altogether different.

Here is a snippet from book three of “The Nature of Order” series that touches on it. Alexander writes:

“When I make something in this fashion [Alexander is talking about how to make something real], this is the unfolding. It is the way that nature works. It is guided by the fundamental process. That means it is guided by a process which creates centers in continuous feedback from the system, and according to the centers which are already appearing there. Since the whole changes constantly, continuous feedback is needed while something is made in order to give it life. That is the essence of all “making” � it is a creation in which the maker responds with feedback, continuously, to the whole that is emerging.”

I think 37signals responds with continuous feedback to “make” their applications. So it is not a question of having a plan or no plan, a map or no map, or a functional spec or no functional spec, small teams or large teams. It is about understanding the creative process.

dave rau (dmr) 30 Mar 06

Brooks, great post. Looks like I need to read up on the nature of order.

And what’s up with the comments over at subtraction?

You know what I’m sick of? People writing about people they don’t even know being mean, arrogant, opinionated dicks preaching the same stuff over and over. I don’t care if you read it or not, or agree with it, or hate it, but please stop writing about it! Especially on this blog!!!! It’s fine to hate JF, or Ryan, or any of the 37 crew and philosophies, but go away already. Let us brainwashed followers of the bible be already. And whoa, what a reference; the bible? Yikes!

What do these people do for a living when they spend so much time and effort critiquing a critique? Holy hell, I hate that.

Mario 30 Mar 06

Woohoo! A quote from a fellow anarchist! Yes! (I’m referring to Noam Chomsky, of course).

Steve R. 30 Mar 06

Dave Rau -

Those who can, do - those who can’t do, give endless grief to those who can.

I sent a link to 37signals book to my grad school professor, who spent 10 weeks explaining why a functional spec including multi-level DFD and full data dictionary are the bare minimum required before beginning a development project, especially one designed to support a business process. I suspect that either he’ll read it and convert, or pooh-pooh the thing. I don’t know him well enough to say, but I think that’s where the griefers come from - educated people who think changing your mind means you were stupid before (not the prof. specifically, but people who meet new ideas when they have a vested interest in old ones).

MM 30 Mar 06

Not quite Mario. That quote is from “Syntactic Structures” (

David 30 Mar 06

There is no real excuse for the fact that I paid a designer to “use svn blog as a model” for ftt blog when in fact he ended up copying the css. I take full responsibility.

I am no designer but I can definitely relate to every one’s frustration. I personally spoke to Jason Fried 2 days ago (via email) and told him that I have nothing but respect for him and everything that his company is about and that I was sorry that the designer I hired copied the css exactly. If I knew how to design, I would�ve done it myself (guess that�s why I�m learning).

The bottom line is: I acknowledge the mistake and “more” changes will be made to the site’s design (well� as soon as I get some cash to pay for another designer, that is).

I�m just a young entrepreneur trying to do something with my life. My sincerest apologies to those that I offended.


dude 30 Mar 06

it seems also “famous” companys like 37ficknals making software like other: “just make it…”
many other make it like this way but waste time to make
accountants and businessDudes happy with lots of crap
on wasted papersheet…things they never ever understand an never used while developing.
i dont make this shit anymore and JUST DO IT … like 37s “invents” now. also my appz are simple as hell…looking like a bluepint of what they have done here and fpr what they are hyped to sky. cant understand it….
maybe i should tell it to my lawyer and sue them “for ripping off simple stuff” … but who cares. i think in 1 or 2 years RoR will reach the buffer stop and other “technologies” and “frameworking ideas” will take place and will by hyped to sky like the mostly stupid iNet comunity likes it soo much.


Adam James 30 Mar 06

I’d still like name badges at conferences, or a professional shirt with a logo on it or a pin. It’s like when you are shopping it makes it easy to identify people. The conference attendees are already wearing badges, right?

It reminds me of the last print conference I attended. I had a rather striking (If I say so myself.) dark blue and orange striped tie that fit one of the vendor’s logo colors perfectly. It looked like I worked for them when I was talking with one of the company representatives.

adam 30 Mar 06


I noticed you removed the comments at the top of the css file that contained your name, and a statement saying that the design was based on the 37s design. I suppose your evil designer had put that in as well?

I thought people were being a bit harsh, but now that you have tried to lie your way out of it, I could really care less.

Michael Ward 31 Mar 06

David: regardless of who did the owrk and how, it must have been blatantly obvious from the very beginning that the site wasn’t based on 37s design, but was in fact the 37s design with colours slightly modified.

You knew full well that you were wrong to make that design live.

Daniel 31 Mar 06

The blog style sheet (the theme is named wp-svn) still contains this note:
“A WordPress theme built loosely on the styling of Signal vs Noise


Anonymous Coward 29 May 06

it long dude

noah 29 May 06

it long dude