Sam Gimbel

Tech, Beer, and Strange Thoughts.

It's not OK to feel OK.

I’ve been feeling like I might cry for weeks now. The Stanford rape case hit the news. 50 people were killed in Orlando. The fragility of life and the vast inequity that led a judge to give a rapist only six months in prison has floored me. The evil and callous responses to the deaths of the club-goers in Orlando have me wondering if I can recover. And the way that life continues on, same as it ever was, gives me pause.

I forced myself to read the statement made by the victim in the Stanford case. I read that statement multiple times and I shared it and I took it to heart that there are so many people who do awful things, and plenty of people who don’t care that awful things happen, because they don't consider them awful. The rapist's father cannot see how what his son did was anything more than a poorly considered transaction; a thing that takes 20 minutes, a rape, a destruction of a life did not embarrass him, did not wake him to his son's toxicity.

It's disgusting that we live in a world where we cannot all agree that a body belongs to the person who lives inside it. It's a foul and repugnant suggestion that the type of body or the opinions of that body or the clothes worn by that body are ever to blame for the violence that occurs against that body. It's a tragedy and a crime against our species that these events can occur. It's depressing to know that so many feel apathy and that some who would lead our country feel that encouraging hatred is an acceptable leadership tactic.

Evil is not new. But our view of the stability of the world is completely disconnected from reality. The privileged, whose power could catalyze change, have been fed a story of prosperity and peace that contains only tangential references to the struggle of those lacking resources. White suburban dwellers have been trying to forget the plight of their fellow citizens since suburbs were invented, and those with a vested interest to stay powerful have encouraged that forgetfulness at every turn. Technology has added additional demographics to the list of the forgetful, encouraged by the advent of content filtering and curation. Would you be surprised to know that the Orlando killing was not, in fact, the largest mass shooting in the United States? Or that only two of the daily mass shootings that claimed over 400 lives in 2015 could be attributed to Islamic terrorism? That doesn't fit with the narrative we're fed, now does it?

No wonder it’s so surprising to white people when the world starts to show cracks. It’s surprising, but it doesn’t get absorbed the way it does by people whose own lives are affected by racism, sexism, homophobia, or toxic masculinity. We see these tragedies as blips, aberrations, and situations that have slipped through the system. We can’t see that this is normal and has been for some time, that death is a reality for people the world over, that tragedy and suffering are a daily reality for more people than for those it isn’t. People whose experience is violence against their person do not feel OK. People whose experience is fear are not surprised by the violence in Orlando or the experience of the Stanford victim.

We have to stop being surprised. We have got to stop allowing ourselves to feel OK about this. It is offensive that we are partying when hundreds, thousands, millions die from tragedies that can be prevented. And it’s short-sighted and self-aggrandizing to believe that we're not part of the problem. You are. And we'll continue to be until you get off your ass and do something about it. It doesn't matter if you're part of the population affected, an ally, or you'd prefer not to be "political." The lives of your brothers and sisters, of your fellow humans, are at stake.

Sadly, even if you act today, more will die. More tragedy will occur. Do yourself a favor: don't feel OK when it happens. Don't allow yourself to process it and move on. It's not time to think about how you can eke out another email at work or be sure to meet that Tindr date. It's time to reflect on what you're so interested in preserving, so dedicated to building. It's time to consider what kind of life you're creating and on whose backs it's being laid. There is no other answer but outrage, right here, right now. There is no other solution but action, change, and an unwillingness to settle.

It's not enough to question or to be defiant. It's not enough to feel that something is wrong or to agree that people should not be treated this way. It's not enough to sign petitions or go to rallies. Change your life. Change the way you speak to children, the way you react to the "harmless" transgressions of your friends and coworkers against vulnerable populations. This will not be a top-down change. This will start with you owning up to the part you play in each and every action taken against your fellow humans. It's time to grow up, and it's not OK to feel OK.

Alarm Clocks

For all readers, but especially for my family, please god know that this is fiction. Fiction based in fact, but fiction nonetheless.

Don’t worry about the rain, we’ll get through this.

Her words echo through the streets as I leave the dry haven of the coffee shop. It’s early May in Brooklyn and it seems no one told the weather man. My grandfather used to say that during every unseasonable meteorological event: no one told the weather man. I guess the joke is that TV weather people don’t know much about the subject. They’re almost always right these days, though. This particular cold snap started over a week ago and hasn’t let up, putting a damper on the joys of early spring that New Yorkers rely on to justify living in a place with such unbearable winters.

That must be why the barista was so adamant that we’ll get through this. The unrelenting rain can make you crazy if you’re not careful. And it is unrelenting, this rain. Unyielding, and cold. A true northeastern deluge. And of course it will have every anti screaming about how global cooling is real.

Fuck those idiots. In the past I was worried about the lack of science education that led to such nonsense conclusions. Then I was convinced the illuminati were to blame, disguised as business elite. Now I know it’s a weakness, a fear of discovering that an entire worldview is incorrect. And in that fear, a tacit acknowledgment of truth.

That fear hits close to home. My grandfather watches The News every night. He’s 84 and morbidly obsessed with the yarns spun by Fox & Friends. I don’t think he sleeps much these days. The News is an institution to him, a bastion of information and along with the Times, the Post, and the local paper, it’s the only access he has to the outside world.

It must be difficult to watch your world change. Sure, there are changes in clothes and language, friends moving away and moving on. All that is in flux when you’re young, too. Here’s more what I mean: when I was 8, I surpassed my father’s skill with computers. He’d purchased a brand new, dual-floppy i286 from Leading Edge. Its claim to fame (beyond setting him back over two grand and upsetting my mother) was that it had memory. RAM. The maximum at the time was famously 640k, and my father had purchased the full amount. I surpassed his skill and he stood by, watching the younger generation thrive in new and different ways.

He came home that day satisfied and a little concerned about my mother’s reaction to his purchase. Unboxing the machine, he was careful to talk about how it was an investment in our future, and how it opened up new opportunities for us as a family. That he’d purchased the best possible machine was a fact he kept to himself. A little hidden indulgence to fill the void left by a childhood of never having enough. The quiet excess was his alone for six years until I turned 8.

My older sister had never been enthusiastic about the computer, but I’d been silently watching my father type up invoices and play Wheel of Fortune for almost two years at that point. When he wasn’t looking I’d sneak into the computer room and open a new document. I believe the software was by Corel. Yes, it was called Word Perfect. I always loved that name. I’d open a document and start typing, one letter at a time. Once I hit the wrong key and a list of commands showed up in a strip below my text. Save. Close. Copy. Verbs that changed my world. It clicked instantly in my head. This machine did what you told it as long as it understood what you wanted to do. And two years later, when my dad’s newer Windows 3.1 machine broke down, I was able to fix it by investigating the file structure and running simple diagnostics from the command line. It had a single corrupt file, so I copied all the important data to a series of 30 3.5” floppies and reinstalled the operating system. I’d surpassed my father. His investment had already paid off.

My father’s transcendent moment was with HAM radios. We don’t know what his father’s moment was because he was a violent drunk, and we don’t talk about him. He certainly didn’t invent domestic violence, but maybe that was his only claim to fame. Asshole.

But when I think about my grandfather (on my mother’s side), growing up in the steel yards of Baltimore, the 11th child of 12, chafing against the struggle of being young, of being poor, of being Jewish, of being from Poland, I think he must have had that moment too. I know he was accepted into Johns Hopkins Medical School, then turned down when a Jewish boy showed up to the final interview. So he must have had a highly technical understanding of the world, or significant empathy, or at least a brain. I know he once lived in a Frank Lloyd Wright house replica in Baltimore, so I know he had the clarity of mind to think about style, reputation, or aesthetics.

But I don’t know what his moment was, the moment when his parents realized the future was his to create and that they ought to give him space to do so. My father took 10 years away from computers because I was in the house and able--no, willing--to do whatever needed doing on that front. My great grandparents must have done the same for my grandfather. I wonder what.

It must have something to do with the spread of information, with the creation of villages that span nations. He must have developed trust in the written word at an early age, a trust that translated to television news when that became popular. He must stay up nights, wondering how the world can be so horrifically backwards, never questioning whether the story being reported is accurate. Variability is not something he takes to naturally: not in his career, his relationships, his opinions. So I’d be surprised if he didn’t look up to television news anchors the same way toddlers look up to the indifference of a neglectful parent.

I wonder how far that goes. While my generation’s moments of clarity led to the digital replacement of many objects, other generations still see the allure of an alarm clock by Braun, a rolodex on a metal ring, or a landline phone. But the tech-savvy masses have abandoned such items, relegating the production of analog devices to outfits specializing in nostalgia or cheap plastic disposables. For my grandfather, the skeumorphism of a digital calendar with stitched leather edges is not bad design, it’s the only design. For him, cable news is all that’s left of the powerful local news stations of the past. And for him, being able to see his $3 alarm clock on his bedside table is worth the fact that it drifts a full 3 minutes a day.

Getting older is not what I expected it to be. I’m about to turn 30 and after weeks of reflection I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m more vital, more in love with life, more appreciative and more energetic than I was at 25 or 21. Some of the novelty has dropped out of the equation (you can arrive at a new destination for the first time exactly once), but that’s left me wondering about the spikes and valleys of the boom-bust travel-work lifestyle. It seems we’ve made a decision as a generation to travel first and work later. Contrast that with my grandfather, who gave life to a chain of gourmet groceries in Baltimore, worked in real estate after that, and never lacked energy to travel in his later years. He got the travel in. He saw a world with new eyes in much the same way I did when I landed in Lima, or in Israel, or in Bogotá.

Rather than a tightening of routines and a need to take Life More Seriously, getting older seems to be about recognizing that the meat of an experience is enjoyable if you let it happen. How else would my grandfather have found the patience and perseverance to make it to Beijing at age 70? How else can I justify the number of hours I put in building the company I started last June? But this isn’t a story about me. It’s a story about that $3 alarm clock.

I guess as my grandfather got older, he saw fewer things evolve into better versions of the familiar objects he grew up with. He witnessed the slow death march of calculators and handwritten notes as they were consolidated into digital equivalents. He attempted first to accept these changes, to accept the increased frequency of novelty in his own life as he left his early adulthood and became a father, then a grandfather, then a great-grandfather. Some things had to stay the same for his human soul to stay resilient to the changes around him. So he developed a yearning for simplicity, which for him assumed physicality, familiarity, and decidedly luddite daily routines. And now he sits, napping in his favorite chair in the heat of the Phoenix sun (despite having air conditioning, a prime need of my grandfather is to not waste it on his own comfort), watching Fox News.

He’s scared all the time. In recent years his heart has failed him several times. It’s a testament to his constitution that after triple bypass surgery he is able to find the energy to be upset with the state of the world as broadcast through the thinly veiled hype engine of cable news. Maybe he’s holding on for good news. Maybe that will finally do him in, to know that this heaviness he feels the need to inherit from the suits on screen is manufactured. It’s an exoskeleton, hard minerals left behind after the soft tissues of truthier broadcasts have melted away.

My heart goes out to him the more his heart threatens to fail. No one who has known him would describe him as perfect or even generous. Intelligent, sure. Funny. Driven. Devoted, even. But not generous, and his news habit is a selfish one. He desires peace, even deserves it after so many years lived and so many tragedies past. But a man who cannot give up the daily promise of 6PM alienation is unlikely to change. A man who cannot give up an alarm clock from another age is unlikely to seek peace for its own sake. Grasping at clocks and for the even keel of perfect diction and ticker tapes, my grandfather is stuck inside himself.

The sun still rises, and try as you may there are no sounds of ocean waves in the Arizona desert but I assure you they’ve not stopped. The tragic breeze travels through the needles of statuesque Saguaros and past my grandfather’s window as his hands clench the arms of his favorite wicker chair. A sigh escapes his lips and settles into the space between his expectant need and the blaring of the television. An unnoticed bird calls from outside and the surface of the granite-lined pool shivers in anticipation. My grandfather slowly relaxes his grip and remembers the past. He remembers the cars and the clocks and the charisma of black-and-white personalities on TV, warmed and distorted by antenna broadcasts. Back in Brooklyn I watch the final drop of rain slither down the street as I round the corner to my apartment. I lower my umbrella and look upwards, surprised at the sudden end to the deluge. The grey of the sky continues to roil and flow solemnly, but a patch begins to turn white, then blue, and a single ray of sunshine leaks through. Ten soggy days, over.

Don’t worry about the rain, we’ll get through this.


I stared out at 50 sets of bored eyeballs, the eyeball owners still confused about leaving their routines to listen to me. I'd done my research, set up sample projects, and now it was my job to train 50 DigitalOcean staff–mostly engineers–on how to use JIRA. I don't hate public speaking, but it's not my favorite. I take a deep breath, introduce the topic, and look up for a second. Ben, the CEO, sits down in the crowd with a pained look on his face. His shoulders are tense. My heart goes out to him: he looks like this a lot, especially during this major re-org we're undergoing, not to mention the ongoing struggle of building a functional product team. I was hire #1, and six months later there was no hire #2. There were plenty of reasons for him to look pained.

I'm not sure what happened. Maybe I over-thought it. Maybe I got spooked. But it's at that moment that I lose my confidence. I couldn't speak clearly, the demo fell apart, and the leader of the company saw the whole thing. He looked down at the table he was sitting at and I saw him visibly deflate. I had spent the last few months building consensus on the importance of good product process and this flubbed moment was a setback for both of us. I was embarrassed at my fuck up, but moments like this are thankfully rare. I finished up the demo, walked out, and made a comment to a co-worker about how poorly I'd performed. He laughed it off and we went to lunch.

This was a minor failure. It didn't have many consequences for the organization or the product. It certainly wasn't critical. Nonetheless, screwing up this JIRA demo marked the beginning of a year-long search for my confidence, a personality trait I'd never thought I could lose.


It wasn't until much later that I realized what I'd lost. Anxious people tend to second-guess themselves often, and I'm used to listening to the self-doubt narrative and letting it roll in the background while I continue on the best path anyway. Plus, my time at DigitalOcean was extremely taxing. The breakneck speed of growth at the company had us consistently under-staffed and over-stressed in the face of challenging goals. I had reason to question my decisions: there was a lot on the line, and no one person or group had the knowledge necessary to make fully informed decisions.

My lack of confidence showed itself in corners, peering out from the piles of junk I couldn't part with, whispering in my ear as I'd prepare to give my order to the waiter, leaving me tongue-tied and indecisive. I went on a trip to the Bahamas with my girlfriend last April and found myself having trouble picking a book to read on my Kindle. The desire to read was there. So was the familiar neural locking of preferences with descriptive blurbs, urging me to read The Martian before Born To Run. But when I'd go to click on the icon of the book I'd freeze, paralyzed with the fear that maybe I should be reading something else.

I remember thinking, "That's not like me," and choosing a book at random.

Difficult book choices grew into a fear of public speaking during my time in the Blue Ridge Labs fellowship, indecisiveness regarding the path we should charge down, and a complete lack of motivation to speak with others in the industry about what we were working on. Time and time again my fear was invalidated and I pushed forward, first by rehearsing pitches, then by asking (too many times) for validation from loved ones, then by forcing myself to listen to my instincts and push back even though I didn't always emotionally agree with myself. I was scared.

My whole life I've been able to sit down, do a thing, and know it reflected who I am.


It was around this time that I started digging into the intersection of introversion, anxiety, and childhood trauma. I suffer from the first two directly, and the third was dispersed among my family members when I was 9 by my aunt's murder by her ex husband after an extended period of domestic abuse. I was uncovering just how fragile I was as a result of living in a world that expects me to be social and outgoing without heeding the anxiety generated by so many [illogical, unwarranted] daily sources.

Anxiety is a prominent driver of indecision in those who suffer from it, resulting in localized inability to differentiate bad decisions from bad feelings about decisions. It leads me to equivocate and stall and to accept the decisions of others whose opinions I perceive as stronger than my own. Add in a natural sensitivity resulting from introversion and being touched by violence and the stage is set for me to cognitively run away from my own decisions.

When we talk about making decisions, we're referring to the result of confidence, not confidence itself.

The logical pre-frontal lobe driven decision-making apparatus was consistently competing for bandwidth with the fear-driven amygdalic and limbic response. The signal was frequently getting stuck, exacerbated by anxiety and resulting in high cognitive load even when deciding on simple things. For instance, today I was deciding between writing this and playing video games. It took me 20 minutes to realize I could do both. Just not at the same time. At the time, I was concerned that I was suffering from Aboulia as a result of the early stages of Parkinson's Disease. While not thought to be genetic, Parkinson's has affected several people in my family, most notably my mother. It's unlikely given the isolation of the symptoms, but the fear was there, driving even more confusion.


The struggle came full-circle: I was paralyzed in my own home wondering whether this lack of confidence was self-imposed and thus curable or simply genetic and only going to get worse.

When you're paralyzed, start looking for quick wins.

I'd been fundraising for Populace and striking out left and right. The lack of external validation had me leaning towards the "genetic and getting worse" explanation, but I wasn't satisfied with that. So I started pushing myself out of my comfort zone and looking for simple victories. Let me tell you. Forcing yourself to move when you're paralyzed by anxiety uses up a lot of spoons. You can't do it a lot. But once you do, the results are positive, widespread, and validating. For me, it was asking for introductions to people I should be talking to, reconciling with friends I'd put on the back-burner due to my fragile mental state, and finding ways to heal my relationship with my partner which had frayed due to my constant second-guessing. Once you push yourself to look past the trap of making the "perfect" decision and trust your own instinct, things start falling into place.

Which self will you listen to?

My mind was opened to a new reality, a new theory of the system I live in. I'm not living in a world where objective reality is unattainable by instinct. I'm not so inept that I must continually appear competent to survive. And I'm not intrinsically broken. I'm a complex being, strong-willed and well-suited to make decisions, but also anxious and sensitive. It's stressful to make important decisions. It's hard to be confident with the people around me. And it takes courage to build the meaningful relationship I want and my partner deserves. But similar to running your first mile, it takes time to train yourself to balance the flailing of the different aspects of yourself.

The part of me that is excitable is also extremely sensitive to setbacks. The part of me that executes effectively is also not great at advocating for the ability to do so. And the part of me that ties all this together tends to defer to the loudest actor. As humans, we forget how loosely integrated our different functions can be at times (it's scary to think about), but by recognizing this you can start to dig into the needs and interfaces provided by those different functions. For me, being confident means amplifying the part of me that loves people, ideas, and success. It means building emotional momentum to overcome the sensitivity and fear of potential failure. And it means counting the victories, being mindful of their existence and the patterns they represent, and being OK with the fact that this is you, this is how you thrive, and this is OK.

Confidence is recognizing past success and identifying similar opportunities.

It's not easy being a human on earth. It's even harder when we expect ourselves to behave in certain ways without recognizing the underlying realities of our existence. Doing so may scare you, and will certainly have you seeing yourself in a new light. For me, it's been a path to new growth and a better understanding of how I can do the things I want in a world that doesn't always expect me to be here. Set your own expectations. The world will come around.


Someone asked me why I'm so angry recently. The question was warranted, given the situation. Let me clear it up for you.

I'm angry because of the way we treat our fellow human beings. Because of the promises we make to children that only apply to some. Because as a white male with a lot of privilege I still feel helpless when confronted with the enormity of the inequity, violence, and cruelty that is committed--systemically--by humans against other humans on a daily basis.

I'm angry because the world is literally falling apart, and there are still those who deny it's possible for science to exist. I'm angry because these same people hold us hostage for their own benefit, and the system we've opted into supports it as a matter of course.

I'm angry because people I love have had their lives taken from them without reason or cause due to the violent and unhealthy masculinity we teach our young men. And I'm angry that I am frequently dismissed as weak for practicing a different way of being male. One that's only 10-15 degrees off from mainstream, and is still unacceptable.

I'm angry because there are so many people so much more vulnerable than myself whose pain and suffering occurs right under my nose and I walk around every day with the ability to ignore it and go on with my day. I'm angry that millions of Americans lost their homes in 2015 and the worst thing that I go through is waiting an extra five minutes for the subway on a rainy day.

I'm angry at myself for being miserable in social situations and seemingly incapable of being happy and living for the moment. I'm angry that I can't give those around me the love and happiness they deserve, and for seeing myself as a martyr and pariah when that's not the case.

That's why I'm angry. But I get up every day, and I try to make things a little less awful by the time I go to bed that night. I'm not afraid of my anger, or of what it says about me or my convictions. I don't let it control me. My anger fuels a better tomorrow. How are you using your own anger? I bet you have some. What's it say about you?


I have some questions. Because sometimes I forget what it's like to have real clarity.

When was the last time you stepped back for a moment and thought, "I'm seeing things clearly?"

How often does that happen for you? What is the situation in which that occurs? How many of those moments do you feel like you're on autopilot, rehearsed, or rehashing the same tired thoughts you had last year, last week, yesterday?

When it happens, are you creating something, talking to someone, alone, exercising? Does the thought come as a fully formed idea or a seed you plant and tend every day until it sends up shoots and takes root in your psyche? Are you consuming another idea, a product, a substance? Or are you in a vacuum, floating amongst the potential outcomes until you collide with one?

Afterward, are you rewarded by a jolt of dopamine? Does your brain want you to smile, to reach out, to connect, or does it tell you it's not enough? Are you able to have your victory, to rest on your laurels for a moment, and to confidently say "I'm sure I've seen a facet of the truth."

Do you call it truth, this clarity you reach or don't reach? Or do you call it found knowledge? Is it instinct, subjective reality, or something else? Do you balance it with experience or let it rest on its own?

How do you find clarity? Do you seek it out, or does it come to you? Do you agonize over a lack of clarity, or do you patiently wait for it to appear?