Being Grateful Is Good For You

Being grateful—for what others do, for good fortune, for what you have—is good for you. It makes you happier, helps you sleep better, and boosts your immune system. Being grateful is a good way to live and when you thank someone else for what they have done for you, I believe it fosters relationships, builds community, and encourages others to do the same.

I learned about the concepts behind journaling gratitude at my first KalamazooX when Elizabeth Naramore1 discussed her own gratitude journal. Around the same time, a Facebook friend started recording five things a day for which they were grateful. Looking back, this was the period when I started to acknowledge that I had unaddressed problems with depression, anxiety, and self-worth. Being grateful seemed like an easy place to start, so I gave it a try.

At different times, I recorded my gratitude using Facebook, Twitter, a physical journal, and my blog. Eventually, it started feeling stale or false; I was being thankful for inanimate or generic things like coffee, friends, or sunshine. Don't get me wrong, these are all fantastic things, but stating gratitude for coffee felt like my goal had become writing about gratitude than actually feeling grateful.

"…people are not so keen on just handing out personal information like their home address without at least knowing why."

Sometime before a visit to Boston, I had read about a man who set out to send one "thank you" note a day for a year. The idea of writing to people and thanking them directly was appealing. While in Boston, we visited the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and there I bought a box of postcards that I thought would suit this purpose. It took another two years and a move to Texas before I actually got started.

It has now been three weeks since I started; I have sent 20 cards, and have another four ready to go this week. Writing them is cathartic for me and I get a little excited to mail each one. I keep a list of the people I intend to write to and make sure to keep track of those to whom I have already written. Each day, I send one card, write one or two more, and send a message or two over the Internet to get addresses. However, it turns out that some people are not so keen on just handing out personal information like their home address without at least knowing why. This seemed odd to me at first and I felt untrusted. In addition, I felt a deep reluctance to explain why. It seemed I felt the value of this project was lost if the postcard was not a surprise. Of course, that is ridiculous; not only do people have every right to know why I would want their address, but if the surprise of receiving the card itself were the value, what would be the point of writing anything on the card?

So, I write this blog entry, in part, to provide an explanation for people when they ask why I need their address. That said, I also write it as encouragement to others who might be considering the start of their own gratitude project. Being grateful is powerful on its own, yet the responses I have received to messages I have sent have been wonderful, humbling, and kind. People are amazing, so tell them; the more you thank others for their impact on your life, the more you will be surprised by your impact on theirs.

  1. IIRC 

Mr. Simpson

I want to take this blog entry to tell you all about the man I knew as Mr. Simpson. The problem is, I don't know that much about him, so instead, I'll tell you what I remember.

Mr. David Simpson was one of my high school English teachers. He was really Dr. Simpson, yet he seemed to go out of his way to avoid the title that he had earned. He was a tall, bespectacled,  dark-haired man whom I always remember wearing a suit and tie. He was always impeccably groomed and he had a razor sharp wit.

Mr. Simpson somehow got me to connect with Shakespeare. He had us creating a cast list for our own Romeo & Juliet movie based on whichever contemporary actors we wanted. All mine were from Whose Line Is It Anyway (I was never going to be a casting director), but somehow, his discussion about my justifications for Tony Slattery and Josie Lawrence to be the lead roles was never condescending (it probably should have been). We even watched Romeo & Juliet1 on VHS, so that we could experience Shakespeare through the actors rather than just from the text. Because of Mr. Simpson, The Taming of the Shrew is my favourite Shakespeare play.

Mr. Simpson encouraged me to write. He gave me access to the Apple Mac in his classroom so that I could spend more time writing my homework with a computer to overcome my poor handwriting. He pushed me to write for the school newspaper (though much to our lament, I never made it to print). I wrote a short science fiction story on my Amiga 500— it was 20-something pages long once printed from the dot matrix printer my Dad had bought me from a bric-a-brac store in Blackpool. When I gave it to him to read, eager to hear what he had to say, Mr. Simpson took it home and read it, and he gave me feedback.

Mr. Simpson helped me cope with bullies.

Mr. Simpson and I had our first trips to the top of the Eiffel Tower together. I know because as we made our journey to the top, he proclaimed to the elevator full of other sixth formers from school, "My first time up the Eiffel Tower, and with Jeff Yates too!" Everyone laughed and though I felt a little embarrassed at the time, I look back on it fondly now. And when I subsequently got left behind at the top of the tower for 30 minutes, Mr. Simpson and the other teachers were happy to let me tag along with them for dinner when they found me alone, waiting at the rendezvous point an hour early2.

If my memory were better, I'd be able to tell you more, if my memory were better. The thing is, this might be the best my memory will ever be when it comes to Mr. Simpson. I found out today that sometime in the last few years, he passed away aged 47 years old. I don't know when or how, just that he's gone, that those imagined emails or conversations where we got to reminisce as adults, where I got to thank him for everything that he had done for me— all the things he knew about and the many he didn't, where I got to try and pay him back for his lessons and support will not exist.

It's cliché, but don't wait. Take the opportunity to reach out to those who have influenced your life for the better and thank them. Do it before that opportunity isn't there anymore. I am still crying as I write this. I wish I could take every tear back just to shake his hand and say, "Thank you."

Mr. Simpson was a great teacher and though we hadn't spoken in over 15 years, I will miss him.

  1. The version from before Leo. 

  2. The journey to get there is another story. 

How I got started with computers

I, like many others, enjoy the ramblings of Scott Hanselman. Recently, Scott posted a blog on how he got started in computers and programming and I thought I'd share my own story of getting started.


It all began in the distant past (don't worry, the story isn't as long as it sounds) when I was at primary school (elementary school for those Americans reading). We were very fortunate in the UK during the 80s; the BBC was working hard to promote computer literacy. This culminated in a number of things, most notable (at least for this story) were the BBC Domesday Project and the BBC Micro.

The Domesday Project was a partnership between the BBC, Acorn Computers and various others to mark the 900th anniversary of the original Domesday Book, an 11th century census of England. It resulted in our school library having a laserdisc that gave us an unprecedented interactive view of the country.

The BBC Micro was the computing platform that formed a part of the Domesday Project and my formative programming experience thanks to the BBC's efforts to get one in every primary school in the UK.

A Domesday system at the Vintage Computer Festival 2010, Bletchley, UK
A Domesday system at the Vintage Computer Festival 2010, Bletchley, UK

We have lift-off!

It was a year or so after the Domesday Project had visited our school library. A BBC Micro sat conspicuously in my classroom day after day. I don't remember exactly how it started, but at some point I went from playing educational games on it to writing small programs in BASIC. I suspect it had a lot to do with a very inspirational teacher I had (Mr. Garbutt, I believe). He read fascinating books to us, he played guitar to us, he had us writing and remembering poetry and eventually, he had me writing software.

It was towards the end of my final year, shortly before my leap to high school, when I created my most elaborate program yet. It was a picture of a space shuttle complete with scaffold and a car with stickman owner for scale. It even had NASA written down the side (for someone who still struggled with some geometry at age 10, I am impressed with myself for rotating those letters). The program itself was more a feat of effort than it was of programming ingenuity; it was several hundred lines of MOVE and DRAW commands. However, that effort earned me a £10 book token and a printout of the drawing and the code used to create it. The printout has since been lost, but the book I purchased has journeyed with me and sits in my bookcase at home, inside it is taped the card that had contained the prize.

The book I purchased with my prize
The book I purchased with my prize
Inscription that accompanied my book token
Inscription that accompanied my book token

The Theory of Relativity

If it were not for the support and sacrifices of my family, that may well have been that. I would have left primary school and perhaps programming, behind. However, my parents recognized my interest and bought a home computer. It was a Tatung Einstein, a little known microcomputer and it was perfect for me to while away hours at home gaming and coding (now I come to think of it, this may be how I got my start with videogames too).

I wrote a whole host of programs for my Einstein including electronic versions of "choose your own adventure" books, an electronic Beatles album and a timetable manager for me and my classmates to use for who knows what. I even remember using the Einstein for our stall at a school business fair (I seem to recall it was some sort of murder mystery thing though I don't remember for sure).

Tatung Einstein and monitor
Tatung Einstein and monitor

Friend and Family

As my Tatung Einstein started to suffer from technical problems I set my sights on something grander; a Commodore Amiga 500. My parents sold our piano to afford this computer, much to the chagrin of my sister (and probably my piano teacher, although I'd already found my lack of talent by then). Meanwhile, at school I gained access to a 286 PC and an Apple Macintosh. The former was part of my science work and often included some lunchtime visits to Sid Meier's Civilisation with a very supportive science teacher, Dr. Stec; the latter helped me to write legible schoolwork for various classes (thanks, Mr. Simpson), assist in the publication of the school newspaper and learn about e-mail for the first time.

An Amiga 500 computer system, with 1084S RGB monitor and second A1010 floppy disk drive
An Amiga 500 computer system, with 1084S RGB monitor and second A1010 floppy disk drive (© Bill Bertram 2006)

And The Rest Is History

By the time I finished high school, my career aspirations were set and I headed off to get a degree in Computer Systems Engineering leading to my job as a software engineer. Along the way, I've had the opportunity to work with some amazing people on some great projects in some diverse circumstances and I owe it all to the opportunities I was given by the BBC, my schools, my teachers and my family. I will always be grateful for their support and the sacrifices that were made so that I could follow my ambitions.