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About Jamis

He makes marshmallows and bow ties, plays guitar, and researches dead people. Sometimes all at the same time.

Focusing on the Moment

Jamis wrote this on 10 comments

Back in April, Nick wrote about our on-call programmer schedule. I think this system has worked really well for us, but I’ve noticed something about myself as I’ve taken my turns pitching in on support.

I tend to get really overwhelmed, really easily. And when I get overwhelmed, I become tense, stressed, and just generally miserable.

I’ve thought a lot about why this happens to me, and I’ve realized that it can be correlated to the number of issues currently in the on-call queue. When that pile of issues is small, life is great and I’m all smiles. When that pile grows deep, I begin to feel smothered and oppressed by it.

So, with that insight, I decided to try something new this time around. Initially, I thought that maybe apathy would be the answer. If I was feeling burdened by the queue because I felt a responsibility to clear it out quickly, maybe not caring about the queue would solve it? With this goal firmly held in my mind, I began working through a typically large Monday morning ticket-pile.

After working just a few tickets with this new mindset, I did feel a difference—I felt free of the burden of the queue, and the stress I usually felt on these Manic Mondays was notably absent.

But something else I noticed was that it wasn’t apathy that helped. It wasn’t that I didn’t care, it’s that I had scoped my area of care into something narrower. Instead of caring that the queue was large, or that the next few tickets seemed like they might be tricky ones, I focused my care on the ticket at hand.

Focusing on the moment has made the difference for me. On-call has gone from a roller-coaster of “HATE IT/LOVE IT” to a generally pleasing experience. I do what I have the immediate power to accomplish, and take the day one ticket at a time.

I have learned an important principle: simple things work, often to our dumbfounded surprise, for we tend to distrust the simple and strive for the complex.

Richard Cracroft, “Our Trek Through the Wilderness”

Good Enough

Jamis wrote this on 16 comments

My great-grandfather, Joe Buck, was a no-nonsense man who did carpentry much of his life. In an interview I did with my grandfather about ten years ago, he described one experience with his father that particularly exemplified Joe’s attitude toward life.

While building the LDS Santa Clara chapel in Eugene, Oregon, he told his son to go take care of some job, and told him how to do it. My grandfather went and took care of it as instructed, and returned, declaring the job done.

Joe wanted to inspect the work first, though, so they went to the job site together and looked it over. Joe identified several things that needed improvement.

My grandfather, as any son would, said, “But Dad, it’s good enough!”

“No,” said Joe. “It’s not good enough. It’s not good enough until it’s right. Now fix it.”

Jam Tracks and Black Keys

Jamis wrote this on 19 comments

My guitar instructor recently had me start practicing with a jam track (basically, a recorded song minus the lead guitar and vocals). I’m still learning my way around a minor pentatonic scale, so my improvisation “jam sessions” are halting and awkward, but it’s amazing how much fun it is. As long as I stay on the scale, I can’t go wrong. Any note works. It’s freeing, and powerful, and I’m able to express myself musically in a way I’d never known I could.

If my instructor had said to me, “improvise a melody on top of this track”, I wouldn’t have been able to do it. I would have had no idea where to start or what to do. There are too many possibilities: which strings to hold at which frets, and whether to strum or pluck. It’s overwhelming! But instead he taught me a minor pentatonic scale and said “play any note on that scale while this track is playing”. Suddenly the possibilities were narrowed and instead of feeling straitjacketed, I felt free. I was given power, because my options were constrained.

A similar story: my wife is setting up a new business and one of the things she offers is piano lessons. In preparing to teach these lessons she came across a technique to use with very young children just beginning the piano (though it is awesome for adults, too). You sit them at the piano, hold down the sustain pedal for them (if they can’t reach it themselves), and tell them to play any of the black keys, in any order. The result is remarkably musical, and gives the students a real sense of ability and accomplishment. With no piano training at all you can make something that sounds beautiful! All because you’ve constrained what keys may be pressed.

Sometimes, our options are constrained because of circumstances we have no control over. Obviously, very few of us have unlimited funds or time, and we have to work within those constraints. But whether we choose the constraints or are chosen by them, we can decide to embrace them and find the power there. By embracing them, we grow.

Eventually, we may outgrow those constraints. I won’t always be limited to playing just the minor pentatonic scale. Beginning pianists will learn how to use the white and black keys together to make music. Your business won’t always be on a shoestring budget. But it is a mistake to cast off your constraints too early, or to chafe against them. Make them work for you. Get as much utility from them as you can, for as long as you can.

Restoring deleted data in Basecamp

Jamis wrote this on 36 comments

Remember when you accidentally deleted that master to-do list in your Basecamp project? Or when Bob thought he was looking at the old Sales project and deleted the new one by mistake?

These things happen, and they definitely used to ruin your day. We felt your pain as well, since these things quickly found their way into our support queue. But Basecamp now sports a spiffy new way to recover things that you (or anyone else on your account) deleted recently.

Recovering a deleted project

If it is a project that was deleted, any of your admins will see a new link on the sidebar of the dashboard:

Clicking that link will take them to a page showing all recently deleted projects, including when they were deleted, and who deleted them:

To recover any of those projects, simply click the corresponding “restore” link, and you’ll be back in business!

Recovering a deleted data within a project

Similarly, within any project, there is a link at the bottom of each page visible to any admin:

Following that link will take you to a page listing all data recently deleted from that project, again with when it was deleted and who deleted it:

Clicking the restore link there will let you recover any of that data as well.

The deleted data is only retained for a short time (no more than 30 days). Hopefully this will reduce heartburn when someone accidentally deletes that crucial message or mock up!

When a friend calls to me from the road
And slows his horse to a meaning walk,
I don’t stand still and look around
On all the hills I haven’t hoed,
And shout from where I am, What is it?
No, not as there is a time to talk.
I thrust my hoe in the mellow ground,
Blade-end up and five feet tall,
And plod: I go up to the stone wall
For a friendly visit.

Robert Frost, “A Time to Talk”

Four tips for learning how to program

Jamis wrote this on 39 comments

I recently received an email from someone who was getting into programming, and was asking for advice on how to proceed. He had a project in mind, and had started on it, but had run into areas where his current knowledge was insufficient to puzzle out the solution.

First of all, I was very impressed that he had actually started work. Ideas are a dime-a-dozen, and one of my least favorite things are “idea people” who feel like their work is done when they come up with an idea, and all that’s left is to find a programmer who is willing to fill in the blanks. That this person came to me after first trying to solve it himself was a huge mark in his favor.

Sadly, I wasn’t able to help him take his project further, but it gave me a chance to think back on the times that I’ve been a beginner (whether it was web programming, or iOS programming, or even something unrelated to software entirely), and to contemplate how I approached those beginnings.

I identified four things that I’ve found were fundamental to my particular learning style. Obviously, there are as many learning styles as their are learners, but these are what work for me.


What better way to help people choose the right handle or knob, than to actually require them to use it in order to add it to their cart? (Seen at a local hardware store.)


While setting up an account at the National Archives, in order to request a document, I found this rather original challenge question.

Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.

Douglas Adams, “The Salmon of Doubt”