All posts by Fred Sampson

A book that changed my life?

From time to time, the question is asked: What book changed your life?

In a public forum, my answer might be:

  • Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s A Coney Island of the Mind
  • Allen Ginsberg’s Howl
  • T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land

But in private, my honest answer is: a little self-published book by a psychiatrist from Palo Alto whose name I forget (Gerald Hill, I Googled it), but the book was Divorced Father. It was published earlier in the year in which Warren’s mother left. At a time when I thought I might never see my son again, that I would have to give up my house and move somewhere, anywhere, else, that I would have to pick up the pieces and start my life over, this book convinced me that the most important thing for me to do was to commit to being father to my son. To suck it up, face the in-laws up and down the street, to hang on to the house and provide him a home, as much as it hurt, as difficult as it was, day by day.

It was the best decision I ever made, and that book helped me make it.


The final line of Bridge on the River Kwai – “Madness! Madness … madness!”

Hope is not a strategy.

Thoughts and prayers are not a solution.

Donny, Paul, Marco. . . what are you going to do about the madness?

P.S. Fuck the NRA.

Football Sunday

NYT has an opinion piece (published Friday) titled “The American Dilemma: Why Do We Still Watch Football?” We know it’s violent, we know the players are setting themselves up for years of brain damage, yet we still watch.

I’ll watch. If I do move as planned, this might be the last time. And here’s my take: if the NFL was truly dedicated to reducing CTE among its players, instead of giving them even more padding they would instead take away their helmets and shoulder pads. The players would figure out in a matter of days how to stop before hitting, how to not lead with their heads, how to avoid the worst collisions. Would the game be less interesting? We won’t know until we try; the results would be instructive.

Doing good

I have long said that the “meaning of life,” to the extent that there might be a meaning, is that life is hard, and we’re here to help each other. That’s it: We’re here to help each other. Which, it turns out, fits nicely with Buddhism in general, and Zen in particular, which might even be why I was drawn to Zen in the first place. It’s not that Zen somehow makes sense to me, but that it fits the way I live anyway.

Now it turns out that my philosophy was described in 432 pages by someone named T.M. Scanlon around 20 years ago in a tome entitled “What We Owe To Each Other.” Which found a life-changing place in the finale of season 2 to The Good Place. As summarized in a nice little  review in GQ,

We shouldn’t be good for the sake of a hypothetical cosmic reward [“moral dessert”]. We should be good because it’s good for other people. It’s difficult to be alive, and one of the only ways we can actually help other people is by doing what we can to improve and enrich their lives. . . [Quoting Chidi] “We choose to be good because of our bonds with other people, and our innate desire to treat them with dignity. Simply put, we are not in this alone.”

There it is. We are not in this alone; we are here to help each other. And I didn’t need to read Scanlon to learn that.


In the process of packing up my office (at IBM, not home) pre-move (to another building), I tossed out a number of ancient historical trinkets that really only qualify as clutter at this point,  including a stash of conference badges that would impress no one. But I’m glad I opened up one little box, curious what it held, and found my long-lost iPod Shuffle! This one was a gift from ACM in recognition of. . . something. I assumed I’d left it in a  pocket somewhere, or a bag or backpack. Nope, cleverly squirreled away with a little speaker.

Now, of course, I don’t know where the charging dock is, so I ordered up a charging cable from Amazon. Two for $7.99, delivered Sunday.

Camping out

I’m spending the day at Mission College in Santa Clara, right near Levi Stadium, for  TC Camp, an Unconference for technical communicators.

First item on the agenda: WordPress tips & tricks + SEO. More to come. . .

Unexpected bonus: Keynote address from Dan Rosenberg, ex of Oracle and SAP, now consulting and teaching at SJSU. I’ve known Dan since I started hanging around UX events, and have friends who worked for him in years past. He gave a great, densely-packed talk about language and usability, including numerous references to facts of human cognition I hadn’t heard before. Must remember to email him and request his slides!

After that I made my escape. The former colleague I had hoped to see there didn’t show, so I was less motivated to talk with a bunch of strangers about things I soon won’t care about.

College foosball

  1. Is there any question that it is inordinately stupid to end a football game trying to duplicate Cal’s insane lateral play? It has not worked since 1982, come on guys!
  2. I’m starting to wonder if the PAC in PAC-12 stands for PAthetiC.
  3. I’m looking forward to the Georgia vs. Oklahoma game on Monday, but it’s not the Rose Bowl. The Rose Bowl was played last night in the AT&T Stadium, between USC and Ohio State. Someone mistakenly called it the Cotton Bowl.

Head-scratcher of the day

The U.S. Presidential oath of office:

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

I don’t see how one gets from there to “I have the absolute right to do whatever I want”.

Charlotte, Charlotte, Charlotte!

Back some time in November, Streetlight Records announced a contest to win Charlotte Gainsbourg‘s new album, Rest, in vinyl, along with a signed photo. I signed up, never expecting anything to come of it.

Well, today I got the call from Paige at the San Jose store: I won!

Why do I care? Well, for one, I’m listening to a lot of French pop music to augment my efforts to learn French, which means hearing Charlotte’s father, Serge Gainsbourg, and sometimes her mother, Jane Birkin. For another, I’ve seen her in a couple of films (Lars von Trier seems to like her), and find her intriguing. So this should be fun.