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I write every day about living with bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression. I've written and published more than 1.3 million words


I Love My Job

5 min read

This is a story about inconsistency...

Apple Mac

I often forget that I have a mood disorder - bipolar - because I'm pretty functional and unimpaired, but clearly I'm not neurotypical. Depression seems to my 'usual' day to day mood, or perhaps it just feels like that because depression seems to last interminably long and can't go away soon enough, but hypomanic episodes are all too infrequent and very welcome.

My hypomania has, as usual, produced some useful results, in that I've been able to make fantastic progress at work on the project I've been involved with.

I was feeling disheartened about how much mess had been made and how the 'purity' had been lost of the wonderful system that I had a major hand in shaping, leaving things less-than-perfect. Then, I spent ages hacking away trying to make things better and tidying everything up, and I'm happy again; I feel like I can be really proud of my work.

Why anyone should expect me to feel consistent about things is dubious, given my mood disorder. Of course I'm going to say "I hate my job" on one day and "I love my job" on another. I wonder if the same can be said for my feelings towards life. I definitely have suicidal thoughts on a very regular basis, but it really wasn't very long ago that I had the holiday of a lifetime, which really was amazing, and I have some great things in my life like my girlfriend and my kitten, plus some great friends and a generally pretty enviable lifestyle... although of course I'm working hard and taking some pretty grim jobs in order to pay for that lifestyle.

I can decide whether I love or loathe creating software. When I wrote some iPhone apps, I never ever wanted to touch the code ever again once they were released. I was not at all proud of my code and it was quite arduous making those apps. In fact, I really got to scratch the coding itch that summer, writing code for 16 to 18 hours a day.

I think creating software can be a mood rollercoaster. Sometimes it's difficult and sometimes it's easy. When it's difficult, it can be really difficult and it can feel like a problem is impossible, but anyone who's a good software engineer will persevere and overcome horrible technical obstacles. When you solve a really hard problem, it's a major triumph, but it's emotionally taxing to have that range of mood fluctuation as an integral part of your day job. Many software developers will retreat into their comfort zone, only doing things in ways that they're familiar with; refusing to work with unfamiliar technologies, where they'll suffer the misery of technical obstacles all over again.

I'm not sure whether I love or loathe overcoming technical challenges. I love it when I succeed but I hate it when I feel like I'm not succeeding; that I've finally met my match with a particularly nasty problem.

In the organisation where I currently work, it seemed like the system I was working on was incomprehensibly huge and that the problems were so deeply embedded in the very fabric of what'd been built, that I could do little more than nurse the thing along and make very minor improvements. However, I started to become more bold and ambitious about making changes, until eventually one day I decided to rewrite it all. Everything works like I thought it would, and things are incomparably better than they were when I joined, but maybe I'm biased. I do have hard numbers to back my claims that things are better... things that were taking days take a matter of minutes now.

I always worry that I'm repeating past mistakes, where I've become full of myself and convinced that I'm a major driving force in delivering a major project for a massive organisation. Perhaps I am a major driving force, but things have not always ended well for me when I've allowed my hypomania to run riot. I need to learn those lessons of the past and not allow myself to become excessively tired, where my hypomania turns into outright mania and I start acting strangely.

Hopefully the reality I perceive is not too different from how other people see things. Hopefully I'm not suffering too badly with delusions of grandeur. There seems to be plenty of evidence that I'm doing a good job and I'm well respected, and that my contribution is valued. There seems to be plenty of corroborating evidence to support my claim that I've made a major contribution to the project and can feel proud about that.

I'm really hoping I get to stick around and see things through to completion. There's fairly significant stuff going on in October, and I really want to be part of that, seeing the stuff I've worked hard on getting used in anger. Sure, I'm over-invested and taking things too personally, but I also want to have been part of something to feel really proud about.




Brute Force

10 min read

This is a story about feeling vindictive...

Brute force

Several nights this week I've stayed up late. I am usually very strict with my bedtimes and routine, but when some major stressor triggers an episode of mania, I struggle to stop working on whatever particular thing has obsessed me, at any particular moment. I feel as though I have spare brain capacity with which to use for a whole range of projects, virtually simultaneously. I feel as though I'm close to making a breakthrough, and with just a little more effort, I will have achieved something great.

There is some truth to what I am saying, but there is also the thing that I didn't mention: What goes up must come down. You have to pay to play.

My attempts to automate the harvesting and analysis of data from Twitter has been reasonably successful. I have managed to extract and store a significant amount of useful information, which could be analysed. The achievement is no small one, considering that I had zero knowledge of any of the technologies involved, nor did I have approval to use Twitter's developer API, which I'd never seen before. Since Sunday, I have written code which can rummage through Twitter's data and find what I want, in order to then gain the insights I want. Obviously, I also got my code to Tweet "hello world" as well as send some messages to a group of special people. Not bad, considering I had to learn a whole bunch of stuff before I could actually start building stuff.

My attempts to stay in touch with a number of friends, and to also start letting friends know that they can [and should] come visit me in my new house, have been time consuming, but incredibly worthwhile, because I'm now in touch with lots of friends - old and new - and that makes me feel very loved and cared for, during a week following a break-up, when I might perhaps have been at risk of feeling somewhat isolated and lonely. Not bad, considering that only two friends have ever made the trip from England to Wales to see me, during the whole 17 months that I've lived here. That's a long time, especially considering how few friends I've managed to make locally. I live a very reclusive life, but not particularly through choice.

My attempts to impress my colleagues and make myself useful at work have been hit-and-miss. A sense of humour driven by mania is not well matched with an open-plan office full of fine upstanding members of the community who are very quiet and mild-mannered. I made a dreadful misjudgement, which caused some upset to a very senior person, but then something else I did was recognised as really valuable, so perhaps the good and the bad cancelled each other out. I still have a job, for now.

My attempts to write something interesting and entertaining - with my usual unflinching honesty - turned into manic rants, some of which were approaching 2,000 word impenetrable essays about nothing in particular. My 'excess' energy was ploughed into writing, but I can't say that I achieved much except for maintaining my daily writing habit, which is an achievement in and of itself, not to be dismissed lightly.

My attempts to prepare for moving house were particularly demanding. Mail redirection, changing the address for several bank accounts and other financial services, arranging broadband internet installation, ordering furniture to be delivered, arranging a van to transport my belongings, boxing up my stuff, signing contracts, paying various huge sums of money to various people and keeping my current rented place tidy so that new prospective tenants can be shown around, has been an arduous task. However, my ducks are almost all lined up.

Then, there were the very many things which I became briefly obsessed about, but were a complete waste of time and effort. I was inventing jokes about theoretical physics. I was making a playlist of all the 80s synth-inspired music that I like. I was writing long ranting Facebook posts about the anti-Semitism accusations flying within the Labour party, and about the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's definition of anti-Semitism.

I was chatting with some people who are massive fans of my favourite musical artist - Fear of Tigers - and there was an album that they were trying to download, but they were having problems. Me, being 'a little bit technical' decided that I would take a look, and quickly discovered that the website is simply purporting to have content to Google's crawler bots, which is actually untrue - the content does not exist. Angered by this honeypot, which is designed to get unsuspecting and non-technical internet users to give their name, date of birth, email address and home address, it then tries to trick the user into doing a number of other things, all of which would result in some remuneration for the owner and operator of the honeypot - the "ultimate beneficial owner" to use the legal term.

Angered by the injustice of would-be music pirates being misled by this honeypot, I decided that it would not be unethical to probe this fraudulent website for any vulnerabilities. I quickly found a couple, which I have set about the task of attacking by brute-force, in order to sabotage the fraudulent site and troll whoever set it up. I had the theoretical knowledge of how I might go about this, but it felt suddenly very important to me to learn the skills of a highly-experienced and sought-after internet security engineer (known as a pen-tester - i.e. penetration tester) or perhaps one might argue, the skills of a white-hat hacker.

Given my propensity for never abandoning tasks until I feel I have completed them to my satisfaction, I would not be surprised if my current attempt to use the most common 13,000 passwords found on the internet to break into the target server, would escalate to a full-on distributed attack to exhaust ALL possible passwords until finally I 'crack the safe' and I can then set about my act of supposedly ethical sabotage.

It's rare that I pause and think "should I stop" and even when it seems very obvious that to continue further would be inadvisable and entirely pointless, I continue, for unknown reasons. It must be something about my personality and upbringing. I particularly relish problems which are generally declared as "so hard" that they're equated with being impossible, which is untrue. Some of the very hard things I've achieved have had surprisingly positive unanticipated consequences, such as giving my life new meaning, purpose, and skills that have later turned out to be incredibly valuable.

If you imagine a lonely isolated child who's been given a hugely complicated task - perhaps even no task at all - but has a huge number of tools at their disposal and lots of raw materials, by trial-and-error that child might create something... perhaps because of sheer boredom. As that trial-and-error learning technique becomes more innate, those tools and those materials start to become understood to that child, in a way that no teacher could teach. If you can self-direct your own learning and you have developed the attitude required to keep trying and failing, but carrying on regardless, then eventually you can start to finish projects that you started, no matter how hard they seemed when they were first conceived of.

What I'm doing could be considered a vindictive vendetta, based on the false premise that the person who set up this devious honeypot 'deserves' to have a person like me vandalise it, because it's become an absurd crusade. Not a moral crusade, but a crusade against the technology that's been put in place to stop mindless vandals from doing what I'm attempting to do: To crack the security that's there to prevent total anarchy on the internet, where somebody with a grudge could cause damage to whatever they wanted, very easily.

What I'm doing is not easy. It's hard. That's more the reason why I'm doing it than any other reason, even though that reason doesn't make sense.

It was hard to get where I am, so it makes no sense to stop doing hard things. In fact, when I'm stressed I actively seek hard problems, which is why I'm always drawn back to things like theoretical physics when I'm suffering from stress-induced mania.

It seems unlikely that my knowledge of theoretical physics will ever be of any use in my everyday life, but a lot of the side projects I've busied myself in this week have very real tangible benefits, although I suppose I could technically find myself being extradited to the United States to face charges of computer trespass or some other vague and nebulous bit of US law that I've fallen afoul of, depending on whose parade I'm pissing on and how far they're prepared to to to get me back.

One thing I would advise you though: Don't get on the wrong side of the geeks, because they're the ones who look after that folder of photos you sent to your lover, which you think is well-protected. The geeks are the ones who look after all those messages you send to the person you're having an affair with. The geeks are the ones who know the most about the dark side of human nature, because the geeks suddenly got put in charge of keeping everyone's secrets. When people think they're doing stuff in private, they act very differently. When people think they're protected they do things they'd never dream of doing without the protection they assume that they have.

I like to think I'm a good person, but I'm also an unusual person. Sometimes I do stuff just to see if I can do it. Sometimes, I take things too far, but I find it hard to stop because I'm a completer-finisher, and sometimes I have to dismantle a huge complex piece of apparatus, to satisfy a mere curiosity, when in actual fact I'm terrifying the hell out of a whole bunch of people who like to believe that their barriers are impregnable. It's disturbing for society to have its incorrect notions of concepts like privacy and secrecy, openly challenged.

We feel safe, searching for whatever we want via Google. We click "private browsing" buttons that give us an extra sense of reassurance that we are entering a "safe space" where we are completely anonymous, and our privacy and secrecy is guaranteed.

Whatever contact you and your personal data have had with digital devices, you can assume that it's as good as public knowledge, I'm afraid. If somebody is determined enough, they will walk right through every barrier that supposedly exists to protect you and your privacy. If somebody is determined enough, your secrets will be known, if you've been so foolish as to let them leave your brain.

Be warned.




Open Source, Open Data

6 min read

This is a story about hacking...


How do we reconcile the concept of privacy, and our supposed desire for it, with the moden practice of sharing images of ourselves and our loved ones and publishing intimate pieces of information about ourselves and our identities, so publicly on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook?

Some people choose to maintain several versions of themselves. They have decided how they wish to present themselves - digitally - for different audiences, and they presume that the computer systems they use have sufficient privacy safeguards so that those worlds will never collide. Incredible trust is placed in those who build those computer systems and guard that data.

Those of us who are living double lives, or perhaps even triple, quadruple, quintuple or more lives, must have a shape-shifting and highly demanding existence as they constantly context-switch between their different identities.

How do they remember the different lies they've told to different people? Which parts of their life are common to all their identities, and which parts belong only to one distinct segment? How must it affect these people - psychologically - to maintain so many alter-egos, avatars and characters that they have created, which add up to a life with extra pieces left over if they were all combined into a single identity? Which are the pieces that don't fit? Which bits would that person have to give up if they were forced to unify themselves into a singular entity?

I can speak only for myself.

At work my identity is an open secret. Any of my colleagues can quickly and easily find this website, which contains every bit of information that most people would consider worthwhile keeping private. We generally don't want our colleagues at the office knowing about the less flattering things which have happened to us in our lives. We generally seek to avoid the prejudice which is still prevalent in a society where we live with the mistaken belief that our data is held safe and secure in computer systems, and the foolish notion that secrecy is assured.

Secrecy is not assured. Quite the opposite.

My knowledge of the limits of what is possible with a computer system, in terms of keeping data safe, comes from the place which society would deem most important: the bank vaults where all our money is kept. Capitalism's biggest fear is that a hacker could penetrate the inner sanctum of the banking sector and annul all our debts. The banks quite literally have all the money in the world to keep that money 'safe' which means they have manyfold more resources than any would-be bank robbers or philanthropic debt-erasers, keeping everybody out of their vaults.

I often wonder if my stance is due to the fact that the man who has nothing, has nothing to lose.

However, the origin of my exhaustive efforts to document the most private details of my life, came from when I had a lot to lose. In fact, the fear of loss is what nearly drove me insane. I realised that the threat of the dreaded event - losing my money and damaging my reputation - was sufficient to create a great deal of paranoia, which was impossible to control because of the insatiable appetite of people around me for the gory details of my private life. I became a human interest story and the only solution I could see was to take control of the story by writing it myself.

Writing a little bit isn't going to help.

Writing your version of events isn't going to help.

Writing the story of your life isn't going to help.

I decided that the only way that I was going to regain my sanity and my dignity was by making myself into a publicly accessible resource. I have emptied the contents of my brain into the public domain, but this is an ongoing process. Unfortunately, I can't just upload everything in my head to the cloud. I have to type it. Even if I typed until the day I die, there will still be things that die trapped inside my head, but at least I tried.

The more I have gone along with this journey of emptying out my head onto the pages of a public document, the more I have seen the benefit of doing so. The more honest and open I have been, the more candid and frank, the more comfort I have felt knowing that the greatest amount of data generated which pertains to me and my life, has come from my brain via my keyboard.

Before I started to write this blog, the bulk of my private intimate personal data was held by private companies and government institutions, who knew where I spent my money, where I travelled, who I spoke to, what I went to the doctor about, what medications I took, what my credit score was, where I had lived and where I was living and an enormous amount of other things too, such as how frequently I visited websites, what kinds of things I looked at on the internet and just about every single word of communication ever exchanged between me and another human being.

This sounds like paranoia. This sounds like insanity.

All I know is that I'm glad that I live a single life with a single identity and I've made myself publicly accessible. I'm glad I've published all my so-called secrets. I'm glad I've put my unflattering side into the public domain. I'm glad that those who would like to quickly and harshly judge me, so that I could be easily dismissed and cast aside, have a repository of all the dirt they'd ever possibly want to find, if only they weren't so lazy and stupid as to not bother to think to look in the most obvious place for it.

I enjoy living my life in plain sight. I enjoy having open secrets. It gives me pleasure and a sense of security.

I'm in the process of migrating my website and all my 1.1 million words to a new home, which will hopefully be a seamless transition for my readers - I've decided to utilise my technology skills to cement my digital legacy. I hope that I can move what I've written to a place where it can be easily migrated to newer technology platforms as and when they emerge, much like old cine films were transferred to VHS tapes and then transferred to DVD discs, to preserve those memories for posterity.

It might seem horribly arrogant and conceited to think that anybody gives a damn about what I've written, and that my writing should be preserved, but there it is: The modern age, where we take photographs of our food and share them with the other 7.6 billion people on this planet via the internet.

I've found the internet to be a place of friendship and connection, and of people who do care about what I write, so it's with little embarrassment that I admit to my efforts to preserve my own legacy.




No News is Bad News - Part One

52 min read

This is a story about the easy way and the hard way...

Legal High

If you wanted to try to oversimplify my life, you might say I have unreasonable expectations, I'm impatient, I'm arrogant, I have a misplaced and unjustified superiority complex, I'm lazy and I expect to get everything I want all at once with a snap of my fingers. I hope you'll find that the facts rather disprove most of that.

An alternative oversimplification might be to say "it's the drugs". Some drugs sure damn don't help, but alcohol, drugs, medications and other substances have been a major part of human civilisations for thousands of years. Can you imagine how many people would struggle without their morning coffee? Can you imagine the bulk of awkward social gatherings without alcohol as a social lubricant?

If we were to look at the last few times my life went from "rapidly improving; mostly complete" to "smouldering ruins; lucky to be alive", then you'll see the pattern is different every time, although it has most of the same key elements. If you can tell me categorically which the one and only trigger is for a complete reversal of fortune, then you're either a genius or you're just guessing and you guessed wrong because there pretty much is no pattern.

Let's start in 2011:

  • I was doing a tech startup. Just as a bit of background: I was the sole founder, but I talked a friend from JPMorgan into becoming 'co-founder' because I was feeling overwhelmed and this guy always talked about wanting to be his own boss and create a dot com etc.
  • My startup was cashflow positive... kinda. I was wealthy enough to bootstrap, but I basically had a local company want me to build them an iPhone app, and I thought it would be a much better idea to build a white label product that I'd license to them, and new content could be downloaded, bypassing Apple App Store approval. Aviva was my first customer.
  • My 'co-founder' was fucking useless at coding and tech in general, but he often contributed the best ideas. In 2011 that idea was to exhibit our product at London Olympia at the Learning Technologies conference. We were one of only 3 companies who had a proper working mobile e-learning solution, so we saw a hell of a lot of decision makers with budget in just 2 days.
  • My startup was shortlisted for TechStars, Boulder, CO... but I had 12 hours notice so I had to book flights and get to Heathrow, to catch a flight to Denver so I could make the meeting. Got to meet Dave Cohen though (co-founder of TechStars) and of course Nicole Glaros who was heavily pregnant but showing no signs of giving up startup life.
  • I'd also applied to TechStars in Cambridge, UK (known as Springboard) and Nicole was kind enough to phone me and say "between you and me, you've got Cambridge in the bag" as opposed to "you didn't make the final 10".
  • I ditched my 'co-founder' which was one of the most ruthlessly awful things I've ever done in my life, but he was more employee kinda material, having only ever worked for one company since uni.
  • I then rang Jon Bradford, who ran TechStars in the UK and said "I'm coming on my own. Hope that's OK" to which he replied "if you don't have a co-founder, you're not welcome - no exceptions". I tried to get a mate who was CEO of a subsidiary of Hawkeye to ditch that and be my co-founder, but Jon talked him out of it ("do you really want to leave an established brand where you have a team of people and plenty of profit to work for a company one guy created on his own less than a year ago?"). So I persuaded my friend with the pregnant girlfriend and the massive mortgage to leave his £300/day contract and become my new co-founder.
  • I lied to my girlfriend about having to go to Cambridge for 3 months - I said "it's just for a little while". My co-founder asked "is it expenses paid" and I lied again and told him it was (technically it was as I think we got £10,000 per founder or something like that, but we had to give away 6% of our equity).
  • Cambridge was one of the happiest times of my life
  • I also made my co-founder cry in front of a Google executive, and was regularly a complete arsehole and the only reason he didn't hit me was because he'd been bullied himself and he was worried he'd unleash hell. I did deserve a kick in the teeth though.
  • Running a profitable business with quite a lot of customers, while having to meet 120 potential mentors in 2 weeks. It's fine if your 'startup' is a website, a logo and an elevator pitch. It's not fine when you keep having to rush back to your desk every coffee break to deal with urgent issues.
  • I got so burnt out by week 10 or 11, I was having suicidal thoughts, but at the same time I was still somehow loving it.
  • I abused A LOT of alcohol, which was fine cos I'd had a lot of practice at JPMorgan. My co-founder however, nearly cycled into the River Cam, several shop doorways and several hedges... and that was just one night drinking free Pimms at a Cambridge Angels night that we weren't invited to, but we just picked up name badges and walked in. "Sorry what was your name?" the girl behind the desk asked. I read it off the badge with enough confidence that somehow the ruse was not challenged.
  • By week 12 I was burnt out. I was swallowing mouthfuls of legal stimulant 'granules' even when pissed out of my mind, somewhat hoping I wouldn't wake up. I skipped the office a few days.
  • My girlfriend was doing my head in. She was pretty evil and aggressive anyway, but she absolutely hated the version of me that was successful and confident. One of her most abusive outbursts was when I wanted to spend 30 minutes choosing a tie to wear on demo day, where I was going to be on stage in front of billions of dollars worth of investors, and all the technology journalists you could shake a stick at. "I hate Jon Bradford and I think the feeling's mutual" she said when she met everyone for the first time, sullen and sulky.
  • I could have cheated on my girlfriend. I could have left her for a girl who wanted me to reach my full potential, but no, I stayed faithful, which created additional stress and pressure because she had non-negotiable demands, like not moving to London, Bristol, Cambridge or basically anywhere near my co-founder, investors or customers. She was a teacher - she can get a job anywhere.
  • On the funnest and most memorable night of the program, I felt duty-bound to do something for my girlfriend's birthday. We went punting, stayed in Cambridge's best hotel and ate at in Cambridge's best restaurant. I wish I went to karaoke, because all she ever did was complain and throw hissy fits about things that were not 100% perfect.
  • On the last night, I had to choose. A girl who I was secretly in love with let it be known that she was into me. But I remained faithful to my abusive misery-guts who just wanted to see my dreams destroyed.
  • No compromise could be reached with regards to moving to even commuting range of my co-founder or London. By "no compromise" I mean it was like every other time I ever tried to talk to her - she told me what was going to happen, and my wants and needs meant fuck all. "Compromising" to her meant doing exactly what she wanted.
  • I went to her brother's wedding. I'd been to 3 other weddings that summer, and she'd gotten drunk and smashed 3 different digital cameras of mine. I told her she was banned from even touching this one. She smashed it. Back at the hotel room, I was sulking. She started saying "you're a freak. You're a weirdo. You're a nerd. You're a geek. Nobody likes you. Everyone thinks you're weird" standing in the doorway with the door halfway open, knowing her mum & dad next door would hear if I rose to the bait and started abusing her back in a rage. The next thing I remember was that she screamed. I don't remember what happened in between, except that she was on the floor pinned down. The scream woke me out of the trance-like red mist and I got off her. She ran off. I waited a couple of hours and then I decided to drive my car into a concrete pillar at the maximum speed of my car, which was about 130mph, with no seat belt and the airbag turned off.
  • When I got home I tried to overdose - I every time I'd taken aim at one of those motorway bridge pillars, I realised there were protective barriers to stop head on collisions like that.
  • A couple of days later, I went to pick her up. She was wearing a singlet, showing off the bruising on her arms to maximum effect. Her parents, out of her earshot, said to me: "we know she's hit previous boyfriends and we saw what she did to you. You don't need to look so guilty and remorseful. She's an aggressive person and you're a sensitive person. You shouldn't have hit her, but we forgive you".
  • Out of guilt. For whatever reason. I stayed with her. I couldn't see any way to make my startup work without moving, even though a single investor had offered to write a cheque for £250k right there on the spot - we'd sort the term sheet matter of minutes and walk away with the money the same day... easy. I said I needed time to think.
  • I started abusing a really dangerous drug, which I said I would never touch in a million years. I basically wanted to die.
  • I had to give my pitch to another load of investors and influential tech people in London. It was quite an important event. I was so addicted to the drug, and I could see no way round the location problem without leaving my girlfriend, I turned back halfway to the train station. I was going to give up right then and there.
  • After the pitch, people who'd seen me at Demo Day in Cambridge said I was even better the second time. I was a different person though. I knew I couldn't do my startup and stay with my girlfriend. I had to choose between my abuser who had zero gratitude for the luxury life I'd given her, my unwavering faithfulness and generous love - OR - my lifelong dream of running my own software company.
  • I turned my phone off. I stopped replying to emails.
  • I took more and more drugs.
  • I took so many drugs I started to get pseudo-Parkinsonism: uncontrollable motor tics. I took so many drugs I started seeing things, hearing things, imagining that I was surrounded by the police or the army, just waiting for the perfect moment to smash in all the doors and windows and get me.
  • A month after that London demo day, I started carrying an envelope around with me that said "OPEN ME". It contained £20 and said "please put me in a taxi to A&E. I have a drug problem and I've probably had a heart attack or a seizure". Inside the first letter was a second letter which was addressed "TO A&E TEAM" which had all the details of what drug I'd been taking, how much and how regularly.
  • I went to an addiction clinic. There were 2 girls in the waiting room, one was 31 like me, and she had 3 kids who'd been taken off her and put into foster care because she'd been in prison. The other girl was about to turn 21 but she couldn't drink to celebrate because she had barely completed her detox and rehab. She'd been a prostitute since the age of 16 and raped by a family member, repeatedly, when she was younger. This is just what I could glean from the conversation between the two women - I sat there in my expensive clothes, a homeowner, thousands of pounds in the bank, a car, a speedboat... what the fuck right did I have to use this service, when they could be helping really disadvantaged needy people.
  • My girlfriend ordered my dad to take me away from my house against my will. I refused to leave my home. I overheard my girlfriend speaking to my GP and saying "is there no way you can just section him?". My dad just patiently waited for days, on the order of my girlfriend. I told him I wanted to stay in MY home where I had MY doctor and MY friends.
  • I locked myself into my summer house and said I wouldn't leave until they left me alone.
  • They didn't leave me alone.
  • I took my circular saw and cut a hole in the back wall, and climbed over my neighbour's fence with my pre-packed 'grab' bag.
  • The police were despatched "for my safety" because my girlfriend dialled 999 and said "there's a madman on the loose" as opposed to "I'm trying to forcibly eject the homeowner from his house that I'd quite like all for myself"
  • After a couple of days in a hotel I went back to see if my dad had fucked off. Instead, the "crisis team" had been called to try and section me. They would not section me. I was not mentally unwell enough to need to be on a psych ward.
  • Eventually, I capitulated - I was exhausted - and said I'd go stay with my parents for a couple of weeks.

Now, the start of 2012:

  • Living with my parents, while my girlfriend gaslighted me ("It's best for your health") when in fact she just wanted my house me kept far away. She kept saying to me "it's all in your head" when I said "you're doing nothing in my best interests". At first it was just intuition and I was going to go straight back, but I was told that the police would be waiting for me at Bournemouth Station "for my safety".
  • Then, let's just say that I accidentally forgot to disable the keylogger on MY Macbook, which I accidentally forgot when I went to my parents. I certainly didn't know that was the laptop she preferred to use most often. It was a complete surprise to me to see that my Macbook was being used.... I wonder what for?
  • No sooner had I got into my dad's car, she was on my Macbook setting up dating profiles and signing up to 'no strings sex' websites. What a cunt. This was not "all in my head". I accidentally had hard irrefutable evidence.
  • I faked a 'calm weekend visit' with the excuse of picking up a few things I'd forgotten to bring.
  • I managed to totally keep my cool. My girlfriend was really unpleasant, but I just ignored it... she wanted me to get angry and upset so she could add to her 'evidence' of my insanity and have the police remove me on a section 136 of the mental health act.
  • "What's this user account on this dating website?" I asked, pretending to be looking at the browsing history, which of course she'd deleted. "I don't know what you mean. Where did you see that?" she stumbled. "Oh, well, I was wondering where my browsing history went so I restored it from a backup, and then I saw this dating profile... it looks a lot like you actually. Same age. Same town. I thought you only had the one sister, and she's no twin"
  • Suddenly, the abusive horrible girl who'd battered my face and told me I deserved it and she'd never apologise, was apologetic and nice for the first time in her life. She gave me a whole load of "I was only looking" and "I'd never act on it" bullshit - which I knew were lies - but when she said it'd never happen again and she'd try to be a better girlfriend, and thanked me for helping her to see that she'd treated me really badly... it was hard to not want to believe her, because I loved her, annoyingly.
  • I moved back home
  • I got a job working for a small(ish) local company. They had a board of directors but no IT director. They wanted to give me the job title "Head of IT". I said "but I'm the most senior and experienced IT person you've got, with 100% responsibility for all of IT... I'd say that makes me IT Director". The CEO said "nope, the Sales Director is going to be the IT Director too". When I asked what qualified him to be IT Director, the CEO told me "he's quite into tech". What this meant in practice was that the imbecile had a pair of bluetooth wireless headphones.
  • Given that I'd spent 5 months not working, I accepted the job and the job title, on the proviso that I'd get the proper salary and board position after I'd been with them for a year.
  • My girlfriend who'd been a lot nicer since I caught her cheating, said "you're never going to propose, are you?". I had a platinum engagement ring with 3 amazing quality diamonds (cut, clarity and color all pretty damn flawless) which had been gathering dust for quite a while, because I was fairly convinced that I had become embroiled with a terrible terrible person. Perhaps temporarily insane because I was happy to be home and working again, and being treated nicely by this girl for perhaps the first time ever, I popped the question.
  • Immediately, she said "I bet we'll never get married though". I had just received my first paycheque. I said "why don't I book some flights to Hawaii, and then if we wanted to we could get married in tropical paradise, and if we don't want to, we'll just have an amazing holiday". She asked "but what if I don't want to get married in Hawaii?". I replied "then we'll just have an amazing holiday, like I said". She continued round the same circular line of question and answer while I tapped away on my keyboard. "You've just booked the flights haven't you?" she asked. "Yup, I replied" I thought it would be great to have Christmas and New Year in Hawaii, which meant that I just blew £3,000 but I didn't care. Life seemed pretty rosy at that point in time.
  • Back at my new job it turned out that their systems had managed to lose £10m of customers money, the customers credit card data and personal details were not at all secured, the CEO's ideas about the important IT projects were copy-pasted from a due diligence report that was clearly written by a person with learning difficulties who simply Googled "Important IT systems" and then asked the staff which ones they didn't have. Apparently we needed a data warehouse as our number one priority, according to the CEO. "We'lll be shut down in 6 to 12 months by the regulators if we don't fix the stuff that's in breach data protection and PCI compliance" (protection of credit/debit card details).
  • We got audited by forensic accountants. It turned out that all the software had been built by putting keyboards on the floor of rat cages, and letting the rats step randomly on the keys, which produced surprisingly better quality code than some of the programmers in my team. The most junior guy in the team who was given the crappest work turned out to be a star talent.
  • I worked my arse off on an IT roadmap, which the CEO didn't even read, but it got leaked to our parent company.
    • An epilogue to this story:

      A year later by chance I was at a really big conference - Twiliocon - in London and one of the main speakers was the CEO of that parent company. He had used my IT roadmap as the blueprint for the entire IT transformation of his company, and he even put slides up which were verbatim quotes from my document. It was actually quite nice to see my vision implemented, but not to have actually had to do any of the work myself. He said all of my objectives had been achieved: 100% reduction in desktop support costs, office rent, lighting, heating and other facilities costs, total cost of ownership was 30% of what it had been previously when they had an army of PABX engineers, hardware specialists, networking specialists, sysadmins, DBAs and other folks to keep the lights on, plus their uptime had gone from about 80% to 97%.

      Also, he said they'd increased their office hours but the staff were happier than ever, because they preferred working from home and there were always people who wanted to do early or late shifts to fit around their busy family lives, which they could do more easily when they didn't have to commute.

      My favourite quote he used was: "an agent has their Chromebook and headset delivered and is online taking calls within 15 minutes, and if the hardware fails, we just send them another one because the hardware's so cheap and no data needs to be transferred from the old one to the new one". That's my quote. I should be a fucking speechwriter.
  • Anyway, my CEO kept banging on about data warehouses, new PABX and VOIP handsets, new datacentre, leased lines, acquiring new companies and integrating the systems, office move, and a million and one other things which I told him were expensive CapEx and generated zero extra profit: the best way to burn all your budget. I told him that the way to increase profits was to reduce overheads first and then make your systems easy to migrate other companies existing customers onto second and then we could grow through acquisition.
  • To fob that wanker off, I got my friend to quote him for some phone systems and datacentre rack, plus leased lines and everything else. I can't remember the exact figure, but it was somewhere between £250k and £500k of capex, excluding the cost of migration engineers and the ongoing support costs.
  • I showed the CEO the financial models which clearly showed that cloud had slightly higher total cost of ownership, if you divided the up-front cost by the lifetime of the product, but the cost of the specialists to maintain and support it all, plus the obstacle to scaling the business meant that it was a no-brainer: cloud wins hands down. Nope. That fucktard wanted his own PABX and servers, and he thought it was a priority.
  • So, I ignored him and concentrated on the projects which would keep the business from being shut down by the authorities. I started my dev team learning how to build for the cloud using the tech I wanted to use. They loved it and productivity soared.
  • I was getting so much abuse from the CEO that I hired the data warehouse guy who could make the prettiest graphs. That was my best career move. The board sat for hours looking at graphs of data which I told my new hire to just completely fake, because the real data was too hard to extract from the shitty systems.
  • I delivered a couple of critical projects, with the main one to protect all of our payments data and systems.
  • I then said that if we didn't rebuild the system, and separate the company's account from the account where we kept customer's money, we'd never have a ledger for a customer, and we'd always be at risk of continuing to lose customer money. I said I'd done my analysis and it would be quicker and cheaper to design and build a brand new system.
  • Nope, no way, the CEO said. "The other stuff is just as important, if not more important" he said.
  • I was burnt out from the battles. I was sick of the board, with zero IT experience amongst them, telling me that my advice was wrong.
  • I bunked off work. I took loads of drugs. I was sick of that company.
  • I went back after a couple of weeks. Everything was on fire. "We've been given 6 months to get our house in order or else the regulator's will shut us down, What do we do?" the CEO asked. "I told you. It's all in the roadmap". He replied "you've got to do both. Rebuild what you have to, but I want my own PABX and datacentre server". "It can't be done and I'll quit" I replied. "Fit in or fuck off" he said back to me.
  • I went off work for another week. Took loads more drugs.
  • The Sales Director wanted to have a private meeting with me. Turns out I wasn't the only one who could see that the CEO was a talentless fuckwit. He promised that I could build the cloud callcentre that had been my vision all along. "No distractions? Number one project?" I asked. "It's got to be done or else we're finished. Our available budget ]ust won't cover what the CEO wants to do.
  • I went off sick again for a while. Let them sweat.

They were glad to have me back. "Are you excited about this dream project that you designed" the CEO asked me. "No" I replied, "`You're not going to let up on the waste-of-money projects are you?". He shook his head "I want my own PABX and new datacentre hardware. "Cloud?"I asked tongue-in-cheek. "Out of the question".

  • I didn't go back
  • I had August off and I saw the Olympics in the stadium

End of 2012

  • I went back to JPMorgan. It was pretty easy - people remembered me and my reputation had lasted for many years.
  • I ignored my boss(es) mostly but I knew that everybody was crapping their pants about a particular even in the financial calendar had only just finished being processed before a cut-off time. I think there were mintes to spare after the thing had been running for hours. It could have been front-page of the Financial Times if the deadline had been missed.
  • It was nice to reconnect with old colleagues. People were really friendly and we picked up where we left off. There were a couple of new faces in a team I was pretty dependent on and one or two of them seemed to be offended by the way I'd just wanter into their team and see who I knew and how busy they were... usually to ask a favour.
  • There'd been a team of 10 Oracle engineers - the best - flown out from the US to find out how to make the system fast enough so that the next time that particular event came round iin the calendar, it wouldn't be such a nail-biter. I think one of the people who was being a right pain about doing the things I asked him to do, had perhaps borne the brunt of 10 oracle engineers telling him what to do, and nothing made any difference.
  • I gathered loads of performance comparison data. I read everything I could, and ran my timed experiment. I looked for any optimisation I could. I think I squeezed another 15% performance out of the system.
  • I was a bit bored. A lot of time was spent waiting for another team to execute my instructions. Not much gone tone very fast.
  • I was abusing drugs at weekends and mosty geting away with it. I started to bunk off a lot of Mondays. Nobody much cared.
  • I tracked down a much more helpful guy in another office. We had some good chats about different things we could try
  • I looked at what the software was doing, and it was clear that the system was only ever doing one thing at a time. One of the most senior guys who built the software - bought from another company - ended up speaking to me. He didn't believe me, but I'd produced some pretty compelling graphs and begged him to check the code again, which he begrudgingly agreed to do.
  • I was right - I found a bug, or at least I knew what the bug was, without even being able to see the code. I was convinced this would be the big breakthrough
  • It was not the big breakthrough.
  • Me and the Oracle guy got together again, and we went through every single one  in case of clues. Then, he found the problem - the system was waiting for a reply to every single requests. Big, important IT systems hare Disaster Recovery sites that are far enough apart that the likelihood of BOTH being destroyed is virtually impossible. even with a nuke. The trouble is that the speed of light is a constant in a fibre optic cable, and the roundtrip from A to B to A can be - in computer terms - quite slow.
  • As a bank, you never want to lose a single transaction, The original engineers thought it'd be best to have the remote site confirm the transaction. This doesn't really fix anything much if the trading contract has been confirmed with the counterparty, and then your bank gets nuked but the disaster recovery site says the the trade was never confirmed, because the two systems got cut off right at the critical moment. You should send the backup messages as quickly as possible with minimal or ideally no back-and-forth protocol. God knows how many messages could be in-flight at the moment the bomb went off, but you'll have a lot less missing data if you fire it away from your bank at the speed of light, as soon as you possibly can.
  • Anyway, it was taking around 1 to 3 seconds for every message sent to be confirmed as having been successfully stored at the Disaster Recovery site. When you process about $2 or $3 billion in FX trades, and $30 trillion in derivatives trades EVERY DAY, that's a lot of transaction volume. On certain days in the investment banking calendar like IMM day and CDS settlement day, which happen quarterly, the volumes are INSANE and it's a real struggle to get everything done by the deadlines. When banking systems go wrong and either have an outage, or miss their deadlines, the repercussions can cause knock-on problems that are on the front page of the Financial Times the next day, and have queues outside Northern Rock when the general public finally realise how insanely dependent we are on many many trillions of dollars (or equiv. in Pounds/Euros/Yen/whatever) digital 'money' being moved around electronically, every single day.
  • Next IMM day, everything was all processed in less than 20 minutes. "That can't be right" the boss said. "How did we go from a process that used to take all day, and was so close to missing its cutoff deadline, to now having completed everything so quickly?". We checked the data - it was present and correct.
  • I was a bit bored to be honest. The next project wasn't going to start for months, if not years, and the 'capacity headroom' was now so insanely high, that there was no point even forecasting when we'd next get close to the danger zone - it was at least 5 or even 10 years away.
  • I started dabbling with drugs again
  • Then my drug use got so bad I had to take Mondays off sick, and then Mondays and Tuesdays
  • By the time of my stag do, I was a mess. I nearly didn't make my own stag do and I was messed up, being handed a loaded shotgun. The remarkable thing is how unobservant people are. Nobody at work or any of my friends knew I had a drug problem, except that bridezilla had started telling people because SHE wanted sympathy. She bitterly complained to me one day that she'd been telling the girlfriend of one of my colleagues that I had a drug problem and she indignantly said "and she said: POOR NICK. What kind of friend is she? No sympathy". A tiny part of my brain said "what the fuck is this bitch doing broadcasting your most intimate personal problems, trying to get sympathy for herself... why the hell am I marrying this arsehole?" but I had become a different person - I didn't have the will or the strength to stick up for myself any more. The weaker I got, the worse she treated me.
  • I'd always said I wanted to get married in board shorts, so of course we "compromised" with me wearing what she wanted.
  • When we arrived at the luxury villa place which was where we were going to spend Christmas Day and our first day as husband & wife, the idiot owner had double booked, even though our booking was waaaay in advance of the other booking. My fiance went apeshit at the guests and I had to physically drag her back to the car, lock her in, and go apologise to the poor family for her behaviour. Then I went back to the car and phoned the owner, who was not very apologetic and said I should ring the website I booked through and get them to arrange something on the North Shore. I explained that we specifically booked this place because we were getting married on the South Shore, because everybody gets married on the North Shore, and besides everything was fully booked because it was Christmas [FUCKING] EVE and we just got off a 22 hour flight and we were getting married in a little over 2 days... and then bridezilla starts yelling "IT'S NOT GOOD ENOUGH. YOU OWN TWO VILLAS AND YOU CAN'T EVEN NOT MANAGE TO DOUBLE BOOK. YOU'RE FUCKING UP MY WEDDI..." as I quickly exit the car and run down the road covering the mouthpiece until the torrent of abuse from my blushing bride to be is hopefully out of earshot. "Look, we really planned this extremely special day for a very long time. We've been looking forward to spending Christmas Day seeing the volcano, and we're really close to the special place we specifically want to get married. I'm really sure you can understand that this is such a special time for us that you'd want to help us out in any way you could, wouldn't you? I'm sorry that this mistake has happened, but we're kinda counting on you to help rescue our Christmas and wedding day... you must know people in the town who could help... we're strangers here". This fucktarded woman said "I'm a bit busy with Christmas with my family, but I'll make a couple of calls if I get time and then hung up on me".
  • I told bridezilla that everything was going to be fine, and we should just go for a nice dinner
  • It was getting super late, and a really put-out inconvenienced sounding version of the woman I spoke to earlier - who hadn't once yet apologised - gave me a number to phone. It was the owner of a house who'd gone away on holiday somewhere else. She was nice. We could sleep there for one night. She gave me the address and instructions on where the keys were hidden and what the alarm code was.
  • I told bridezilla that everything was sorted
  • We finished our meal and went to the house, which was absolutely gorgeous, and made ourselves at home. The fridge had been stocked with cold beer and there was a load of fresh fruit and stuff all ready for breakfast. I had no idea how this had been arranged, but there are some good people in the world. Most importantly, bridezilla's fury was pacified; she even managed a smile as we enjoyed a beer together on the enormous couch.
  • The house had a big verandah which encircled it, and I crept out there early in the morning to find out where we were spending Christmas Day. I rang obnoxious villa owner woman because I knew she was on the East Coast of the USA and I wouldn't be waking her up. I was given another address nearby(ish). "I hope you know that it's costing me a lot of money to put you up in this place for the rest of your stay. I'm doing you a big favour. Keep it tidy. I've got to pay to have it cleaned up after you've gone" she said. God knows how I resisted the urge to say "and Merry Christmas to you too" or "thanks for your best wishes for our wedding day the day after tomorrow". I just say "OK" and hung up.
  • Bridezilla was pissed that we had to pack and move, but I said the sooner we did it, the sooner we could start our holiday.
  • The place where we were going to spend our last unmarried couple of days, and consumate our marriage, was nowhere near as nice as the place we'd been in before, but it had a hot tub and the bedroom looked out into the rainforest. No drapes, but that didn't matter. No food in the fridge but that didn't matter. At least we weren't going to be sleeping in the car. In fact, it was still a super charming nice place - a cosy little cottage. We found a store that was open and bought a load of food and drinks, assuming that we wouldn't be able to have a nice Christmas Day meal anywhere.
  • We had an amazing Christmas Day seeing the volcano and the lava fields. I can't remember what we ate for our Christmas Day meal. I was just relieved that things were starting to go OK.
  • Boxing Day I'm not sure how I found out, but there was a problem with the camper van we were going to use to get around Oahu on the second half of our trip - Bridezilla's idea. Major mechanical problems. No way it could be fixed in time for when we needed it. No alternative vehicle available - there's only 2 camper van rental companies on the whole of Oahu anyway. I told Bridezilla, thinking "hey, no big deal, we'll just book a nice 5-star hotel and that'll be way more relaxing, swimming in the pool and having waiters bringing us ice cold cocktails... but no, she went apeshit. Even more apeshit than when the accommodation was double booked. "The wedding's ruined" she sobbed. "Everything's ruined" she wailed. I tried a bit of "hey we're in tropical paradise and the camper van was just one part of the holiday later on in the trip. We'll find a nice hotel. We'll rent a nice car. We can still explore the island" type soothing and trying to put things in perspective for her, but she was inconsolable. I rang the camper van guy back: "look, I know it's Christmas and this is an island and getting parts shipped is hard, and mechanics are taking holidays, but is there any way we can get this gearbox changed or repaired. We're here to get married and my fiance is devastated. I'll pay for the repairs. I'll pay Christmas bonuses. Just please, can you think of a solution, because my fiance is so upset and I'm worried that this is really going to ruin her special day". The guy said "I'm really sorry, but there's no chance. That van's not gonna run". I pleaded "please, just make a couple of calls. Say there's extra money in it for the inconvenience. See if there's somebody who can work their magic, even if it's a million-to-one shot". The guy said "alright buddy. I'll make a couple of calls, but I'm telling you it's a waste of time". Trying to sound as grateful as I can I said "alright, I'm so appreciative of you doing that. Thank you".
  • Bridezilla does not understand why I'm not shouting and screaming at people. "These arseholes are ruining my wedding, my holiday, my Christmas. I'm so frustrated that you're always so nice all the time. Gimmie the phone. I'm gonna tell him what I'm going to put all over the internet about his shitty company". I reply "they're just a skint couple who have a couple of knackered old vans that they use to supplement their shitty wages. They're trying their best. You're not having the phone"
  • After a bit of sulking, bridezilla is persuaded to go on a drive to see where we're gonna get married - "I don't see the point; the wedding day is ruined" - and visit the nearby black sand beach and seawater swimming pool, and generally try to enjoy the day as best we can.
  • The place for the outdoor wedding was stunning, with huge plumes of water jetting into the air as waves hit the black rock cliffs. The photographer promised to find a couple of jaw-dropping 'secret' locations and she certainly delivered. Bridezilla is almost happy: the blue sky, ocean, white jets of sea spray and glossy green tropical plants, is so beautiful she's smiling and laughing as a shower of sea spray unexpectedly hits her from behind. The rest of the day was everything you'd ever want from a trip to Hawaii - a black sand beach that certainly had novelty value, although the volcanic sand was pretty gritty, and a seawater swimming pool where waves were breaking right over the sea wall at one end. In the ocean, you'd be smashed to pieces by the waves. The pool felt just like swimming in the ocean except it was shallow enough to stand up and you didn't have to fight with currents and waves. It was so much warmer on the coast than it was up in the hills of Volcano, and we were cruising around in our open-top rental car, having a super nice time.
  • Wedding day, the camper van guy called. He'd found a guy who was gonna try his best to bodge the gearbox so it worked enough for one circuit of the North Island. No promises. "Don't get your hopes up, but it might be OK" he said. "The camper van is fixed good as new" I lied to bridezilla. She was pleased, but she should have been more pleased given the meltdown we had the day before. I guess she was stressing about getting dressed and doing her own hair and makeup and stuff.
  • We had our ceremony - traditional Hawaiian vows and exchange of flower garlands combined with obligatory ring thing too - the photographer and her assistant are the only witnesses, other than the nice lady who conducted the ceremony, who also encourages us to "throw a chaka" in at least one of the photos. The rest of the photos have been planned, choreographed and timed to perfection, with waves breaking at just the right moment, although the photographer is a little disappointed that we only wanted to do one session, rather than coming back during the "golden hour" when the sun is not so bright and harsh, and everything is bathed in golden light. Surprisingly it was all quite quick, even to do a photo in a cool bit of road where the trees have formed an arched canopy and a photo at the black sand beach. "We've still got time if you want to go to the church that they have to keep moving to escape the lava" the photographer suggested. The brightly painted wooden church was photogenic as hell of course, and I don't see any conflict of interest with my atheism - a building is just a building. In a moment when my wife is being photographed, the assistant asks me if I chose my outfit. I didn't. If I chose my outfit I'd have been wearing Brazilian Havaiana flip flops and board shorts, although I would also have chosen a white shirt and linen jacket if I chose my wedding attire myself.
  • During the ceremony, my bride started crying. Does that happen much? Were they tears of joy?
  • We were back at our little cottage surprisingly early, and my wife prepared a really nice lunch from the limited provisions that are available in a local store on Christmas Day. We popped a cork - sparkling wine - and cheered our own marriage.
  • I guess I'm a bit of an idiot, because when my wife suggested a lie down before dinner, I genuinely thought she was exhausted by it all, like I was. Again, naïveté or stupidity led me to be surprised a second time, when I discovered that she was wearing lingerie. We'd never done the lingerie thing. I thought that initial married sex would be not be anything out of the ordinary for a couple who'd been together 7 years, but she'd done her eye makeup exactly how I said I like it ("slutty") and I would never have predicted I'd have the raging horn for the same girl I'd slept with almost every night for the same length of time most married couples find they get the "7-year itch".
  • Dinner laid on by a private chef was absolutely amazing, and we even had a freshly baked wedding cake, although it might less confusingly be described as a freshly baked cake to go with our wedding day meal. The chef is actually fairly well known for Hawaii and just happed to live in Volcano village. Probably the saddest thing about the divorce is that signed copy of her cookbook she gave us - there's something so amazingly personal and intimate about having a private chef spend all evening with you, cooking you a 5-course meal on such a special and memorable day. We saw just 5 people that day, other than each other.

Start of 2013:

  • I wanted to go to the North Shore of Hawaii to see the big wave surfers, so that's the first place we went in the camper van. By chance, the surf was big; so big that the beaches were closed because the waves would have killed you if you just got caught in the shore dump. You can't quite believe how big those waves are until you've seen them in the flesh.
  • The weather in the village of Volcano, on the North Shore of Oahu and the North East corner of the Big Island, where we'd spent most of the holiday, is windy and rainy. It's warm, but there are bits of Hawaii that are great for a nice sunny island paradise holiday, and there are bits that are often visited because of tourist attractions, like the active volcano near Volcano village. Our camper van was taking a battering with wind and rain every night, and we were supposed to be spending a week in this thing. Also, I always feel a bit self conscious about the sex noises that emanate throughout campsites due to the poor sound insulation of tents and camper vans, with tent material in the 'pop-up' bit where the bed is. The honeymoon had been about as relaxing as the bit leading up to the wedding - every day was chock full of driving places and seeing things. After another night with the wind shaking the van and rain leaking in, I booked us into the Hilton, Honolulu, which cost an absolute bomb, but I wanted luxury relaxation, not having to get dressed and walk to a toilet block if I needed a piss in the middle of the night. Also there had been a complete absence of drinking cocktails by the swimming pool. Relaxing, it had not been, although it seems churlish to complain.
  • Great big lovely bed with clean crisp linen, balcony looking out over the ocean, swimming pool, waiters bringing you drinks and snacks, amazing restaurants, lovely beach, shops selling tourist attractions, bars... Honolulu at Christmas is chock full of fat Americans and Japanese, and it's not island paradise at all, but it's hot and sunny and at night you can eat incredible food, drink in places that have 200 beers to choose from, then go back to your spacious hotel room and do what honeymooners do without worrying too much about poor sound insulation. I had so desperately needed a holiday, but I ended up mostly using every power of charm and persuasion that I possess to keep bridezilla happy, and then she'd planned a pretty punishing sightseeing itinerary, which I can't complain about because I've seen into the crater of an active volcano from a helicopter and driven to the top of a 14,000ft mountain, to count just a couple of amazing amazing things we did... but I desperately desperately needed to lie on a sun lounger having a steady supply of cold drinks brought to me.
  • One night I realised we were going home the next day. I realised I was going straight back to work. I realised that while I'd been away, the office had moved from the small town centre building that I'd spent 7 years working in, to "the greenhouse" which I detested... stuck out in the middle of nowhere really, and without enough car parking spaces for everyone. Gone would be the days of getting drunk at lunchtime or straight after work, because of having to drive home. There was only one place nearby that served alcohol anyway, and that was in a leisure centre, which is hardly the right atmosphere for a bevvy of beers with your beloved colleagues. I sat on the toilet in the ensuite bathroom, and I ordered drugs over the internet, to arrive the day I was supposed to go back to work.
  • I did manage to go into the 'new' office a couple of times. Each time was disastrous. The one time I tried to cycle, lots of dark material rubbed off on my pristine white shirt, and I looked a total mess. Every time I parked was a massive hassle, having to ring a phone number and tell my life story using a telephone touchpad. I was even more bored than when I left. There was nothing to do. I got up and walked out at lunchtime, halfway though my first week back.
  • I went to the doctor after I'd been on a 5-day drug binge. I was honest about having a drug problem, but me being me, I look and sound too respectable to be the junkie sort. The doctor said to me "I'm going to sign you off work for 5 weeks so you can sort yourself out properly". IMMEDIATELY my brain said "Yippie! That means I have have a 4.5 week drug binge and sort myself out for a few days before I have to go back to work". You've got to understand that's not devious or plotting... it's immediate. I went to the doctor to get an extra couple of days off so I had the piece of paper to prove I was sick, and didn't lose my job - you need a 'sick note' for any absence longer than 3 working days in the UK. My addict brain thought that I'd won the National Lottery, Euromillions and American Powerball all at once.
  • Turns out you can't binge for more than 4 or 5 days without getting pretty mentally disturbed, and when you start pushing up to 9 or 10 days you can wake up in your attic with absolutely no idea how you got up there, why you went up there, what day it is, what time it is... how you didn't fall through the open hatch when you passed out.
  • This is when I started trying to find the country's leading experts in dual diagnosis: bipolar disorder and substance abuse disorder. I also needed somebody who had familiarity with addiction to atypical stimulants; legal highs. These drugs were so new - although they'd been patented for 40 or 50 years - that nobody in the medical profession or so-called addiction experts knew how to best treat the addiction. One psychiatrist told me to "taper the dose down slowly, and stop tapering if you have bad withdrawal symptoms" which is pretty much like telling an obese person to eat less but eat if they feel hungry, but worse still, the interaction between the drug I'd been taking and the bipolar medication I'd been given caused heart problems, blood pressure problems and breathing problems, which nearly killed me.
  • I found a local psychiatrist and wrote him quite a detailed email about exactly the predicament I was in. I was hoping he'd refer me to one of the specialists who'd failed to respond to my direct approach. He was a very kind man, and spoke to me on the phone and by email before we had a series of proper consultations, thankfully paid for by my JPMorgan medical insurance. His final report shocked me: I needed to spend a minumum of 4 weeks in a detox facility. Any attempt to quit without help and supervision, in an isolated location where I couldn't just order more drugs off the interent, was going to be doomed.
  • I chose The Priory because Dr. Simon Kelly was already my first choice to help me, as the UK's leading expert on dual diagnosis.
  • My new wife - this was now February - said she'd divorce me if I went into treatment. "But this addiction is killing me" I pleaded with her. "I'd rather be a widow than have to wait to divorce you if you won't just quit cold turkey using willpower" she said. "I've tried so many times, and the longest I've managed is a few months. It's not a willpower thing. It's a powerful addiction... it's not like turning down a second helping of ice cream or having a salad instead of chips" I said, but she never listened to a word I said. One minute, she'd be quoting the psychiatrist's report at me - the bits that could be cherry-picked out of context - then she'd just ignore me when I pointed out that the report's final conclusion that a minimum 28-day detox was necessary to save my life, because my addiction had gotten so bad.
  • My wife got so angry and aggressive and abusive that I had to barricade myself in the bedroom to protect myself from her fists and feet at least, even though the door didn't protect me from her yelling abuse at the top of her lungs, and the terror of her kicking and punching the door in a rage. I phoned The Priory and asked if they could take me as an emergency admission, because my domestic situation was so violent, threatening and abusive. They agreed. I rang a taxi. My wife calmed down and told me to cancel the taxi. "Why?" I asked. "I'll take you" she said. "You promise? And you promise not to shout and scream and hit me?" I requested. "Yes".
  • At The Priory, my wife left without a "goodbye", "good luck", "phone me" or "I'll come visit". In fact, she paid no interest in when visiting hours were. She just fucked off home. Allegedly, although it wouldn't be possible for me to know this of course without hacking her email account, which would be illegal, she immediately re-joined all the dating websites and no-strings sex websites. Of course, at The Priory there's no WiFi and mobile phones are banned, so it's fully offline - I had 28 days where I couldn't have hacked her email even if I wanted to [which I obviously wouldn't because that's illegal].
  • I was mainly concerned with not losing my good job at JPMorgan, which The Priory were most helpful about. They wrote to them saying that I was being treated in a private hospital for bipolar disorder. Of course, there were no clues to give away that all-too-easily-identifiable brand name, which instantly connects with drug addicts and alcoholics. There was a helpline number in case of urgent inquiries. My boss phoned - I had a phone in my room. "Where are you? Can I come and visit?" he asked. "I'm in a private hospital. Visits are very restricted. I'm sorry I can't tell you more, but occupational health should keep you informed" I said... the words which were helpfully given to me by The Priory to help protect me from stigma. "I've got some good news. I wanted to tell you in person, but I'll just tell you now on the phone. You're getting a special bonus in your next pay packet, in recognition of the good work you did fixing that issue that 10 Oracle consultants never managed to. They don't give out many bonuses like this - somebody pretty senior had to approve it. You've impressed a lot of influential people" he said. "Wow that's brilliant news. Thanks" I replied, acutely aware of the fact that I was speaking to him while in The Priory because of my drug addiction. How ironic.
  • My wife started being more unpleasant than she'd ever been. I'd arranged for a florist to leave her a flower on the doorstep every morning so she'd have a little apology and a reminder that I was thinking of her. The only time she phoned me was to complain about the nuisance of having to throw away the flowers. It hurt me deeply that she showed no interest in visiting or supporting me. Were somebody - not me obviously - to have illegally hacked her email, they'd know that she was too busy with her dating websites and no-strings sex websites.
  • When I had been in The Priory for 26 days, I received an anonymous tip-off about what had been going on with my wife, who had a lot of convincing excuses why she didn't phone or visit, or even find out the visiting hours, or attend the sessions which were specifically to help couples. I was pretty angry, so I rang myself a cab and left two days before completing the full 28-days. Obviously I couldn't confront my wife with the precise allegation, without her knowing that I'd been tipped off, which could have triggered a police investigation into any potential email hacks. Even I could have been falsely accused, given that I'd been given my smartphone back on around day 26, and there were allegedly remote parts of the hospital grounds where you could get a weak 3G signal... not that I used my phone for anything except to call that cab of course.
  • I never did go back to JPMorgan except to see the occupational health doctor, who kept signing me off sick. He was convinced that I should stay married to my allegedly unfaithful and certainly unsupportive and abusive wife, unlike Dr. Kelly who I saw every day for 24 or 25 days, who was fairly convinced that the toxic relationship with my wife was not at all healthy.
  • The months of March through to July, I tried to protect myself from physical abuse with a door as a shield, until I was able to build an insulated, carpeted and plastered room in my summer house, fitted with secure locks. I drank from a hosepipe and pissed and shit in a bucket until I could be sure that I was safe to be able to have a shower and hurriedly grab some food. When the door kicking and punching and yelling from her happened now, it was in full view and earshot of all our neighbours.
  • Driven to the point of suicide, I took wood and screws and barricaded myself in the main bedroom of my house. I sent emails to her parents, my parents, and some of our trusted friends saying that I could no longer live such a terrorised imprisoned life, and I would be on hunger strike in that room until a sensible resolution could be reached by sensible people. My own attempts to negotiate my freedom from captivity - directly with my wife - were met only with abuse, and were futile.
  • Mercifully, by August we had separated, which was negotiated and facilitated by both sets of parents. I was free and the 8 year relationship was over.
  • I rang one of my best friends in London, and he enthusiastically invited me to stay with him while I got back on my feet and tried to get my JPMorgan job relocated to London. I needed to be away from Bournemouth and from her.

*** This is the first part, which covers my relationship with the person my friends call "the poison dwarf" and my time in Bournemouth. The next part will cover London and maybe Manchester too ***




What do People Want to Read About?

7 min read

This is a story about giving the audience what they want...

Glowing book

It should come as no surprise that Google mainly brings me readers who wish to find out how to kill themselves. My number one blog post is all about how to suppress the hypercapnic alarm response, in order to be able to asphyxiate yourself, or in other words suffocate to death. For writing candidly about suicide, I was once accused of being irresponsible by a psychiatrist, but frankly if somebody's intent on killing themseves then they're going to find a way. I'm not encouraging anybody to commit suicide, nor do I glamourise suicide - you must surely be convinced that my life is not an enviable one. How is it possible to envy the dead anyway? There have been 100 billion humans who have died since homo sapiens became a species, so it's hardly like I'm a unique role model.

Secondly, Google brings me readers who very dearly wish to know how to have better sex. I don't mean lovemaking techniques, I mean drugs and medications that significantly enhance sex. The main search term that seems to bring readers in their droves is "drugs that make you horny". Perhaps more interesting - although very few people search for this - is my research into medications that allow men to have multiple orgasms. There's information hidden in these pages that explain how to reach unimaginable heights of sexual ecstasy, so I don't really know why the Google searches seem so unimaginative and my sordid little guides on how to have masses of mind-blowing orgasms remain largely overlooked.

That I know what kind of Google searches bring readers to my website is not any kind of hacking or cybersnooping, but is a service that Google themselves provide called Google Webmaster Tools. In addition, there is Google Analytics, which somewhat less reliably tells me the keywords that people used to search and find this site. The idea is that I could better tailor my content to give people what they want. People seem to mainly want to kill themselves with nitrogen gas, or some other inert gas other than carbon dioxide.

It's sometimes said that we see a world that reflects our own feelings. So, if we're angry then we perceive the world as being an angry place. Because I'm depressed and suicidal, I therefore see depression and suicide everywhere I look. However, there are good data to support my feelings: suicide is the number one killer of men under the age of 45... far bigger than any diseases, car accidents, murder, drug addiction and all the other things you could think of that would prematurely kill a person. It seems I'm onto something doesn't it?

What do any of us want other than to fuck, eat, sleep, procreate and various other things that an organism would be expected to do? I could write about food and the pleasure of eating, but I've found that the pursuit of drug-enhanced sex has been more rewarding. I could write about extreme sports, and the adrenalin rush from doing dangerous things, but I've found that taking addiction to its most extreme has been far more exciting than any parachute jump or cliff face that I've climbed.

There are an incredible amount of people who want to read about getting high. There are very few people who seem to want to read about quitting drugs, although my blog posts about detox and rehab are often visited. There are heaps and heaps of people who want to get sober. In fact, it's quite depressing just how many people are looking for a cure for their alcoholism. There are heaps and heaps of alcoholics who would very dearly like to find a way out of the situation they're trapped in, and some of them find their way to this website looking for answers.

Another thing I can see is trends. I can see whether I'm getting more visitors, or fewer. I can see that live-publishing a draft manuscript of a novel on my blog was not a crowd pleaser. I can see that documenting the trials and tribulations of an IT consultant working for an investment bank is not a crowd pleaser. I can see that generally, there's an inverse correlation between how well I am, and how many visitors I get to my website. That would be expected... there are a lot of concerned people out there, and when things are going swimmingly there isn't so much of a need to keep an eye on somebody who's been actively suicidal at other times. However, there's a cynical part of me that wonders how much people are looking for drama, also. There's very little drama in a wealthy white educated middle-class guy complaining about his lot in life, because his job is a little underwhelming.

Of course, I'm writing now with my tongue in my cheek.

There's more drama than there's ever been, because this is make-or-break time. I'm fending off drug addiction, sex addiction, porn addiction, alcoholism, risk taking, money spending, near-bankruptcy, crushing levels of debt, homelessness, insomnia, anxiety and panic attacks, suicidal depression and complete melancholic malaise about my life and the state of the whole world and those who live upon this planet's surface. In terms of jeopardy, things are at their most precarious, because a slip-up now would send me crashing drastically. To relapse when I'm in the middle of on/off addiction and a mental health crisis is no drama because I'm living with daily highs and lows and I don't spend more than a few days or weeks without a major incident. To relapse now would be to throw away 6 or 7 months of arduous struggle against adversity. To relapse now would be a cruel blow, when I've overcome such insurmountable odds.

To deviate from my plan and my story would be foolish. To attempt to react to the stats and the data I have in my possession and write what the audience seem to want - to play to the crowd - would keep me in a perpetual state of sickness. If I was intent on having the most popular blog that I could write, it would conflict with my desire to recover and live a normal life. I've even been accused of wanting to stay sick to please my 20,000 Twitter followers. I'm regularly accused of being alarmist, attention seeking and melodramatic. I'm occasionally accused of being contrived, and even that I'm some kind of fake.

Where's the punchline, we wonder. When am I going to ask you to reach for your credit card? Am I selling T-shirts and mugs? Am I going to emblazon this site with advertising and harvest your personal data? Am I going to start a mailing list and spam you? How do I even make money out of this? Do I want fame or notoriety?

Of course I want to be noticed. Of course I want readers; followers. Of course I want what I write to be read. How ridiculous to suggest that there's some virtue in writing in obscurity. It's not noble to hide your thoughts and feelings and emotions and inner monologue... it's stupid. What people want to read more than anything else is authentic writing from real people. Public diaries; journals; blogs. If you like people and human stories, what could be better than the real-life soap opera of a person's life laid bare for all to see, warts and all.

I don't know where I'm going with this, but I don't want to go down the well-trodden path of clickbait and slavishly obeying the analytic data that seems to suggest that pictures of kittens and puppies go down very well on the internet. What kind of an artwork would I be creating, if I was to ask the audience what I should paint on my canvas?

Does life imitate art, or does art imitate life?




Performance Enhancing Drugs

7 min read

This is a story about arms races...

Pool table

Being the only honest player in a game where everybody else is cheating is a fate worse than death. Where do you draw the line for cheating though?

When playing pool, it's a well known phenomenon that there's an optimal level of intoxication to be a better player. Alcohol relaxes you, which means your muscles are less tense and the action of your arm should be smoother, delivering a straighter strike to the cue ball. Is it cheating to have a cheeky couple of pints when you're playing pool down at the pub?

Computer programmers are machines that turn coffee into software. Stimulants like caffeine and the other amphetamines - caffeine being indistinguishable from amphetamines when given intravenously - are well known for improving concentration. If most programmers are gulping strong coffee all day long, how's anyone who's caffeine-free going to compete with the rest?

The combination of caffeine and glucose is proven to improve athletic performance by a remarkable amount. Given that energy drinks are not banned and can even be sold to children, how is anybody supposed to compete at sports unless they're guzzling Red Bull?

There's a great deal of pressure on me to perform at the moment. My entire future rides on me doing a good job at work. If I fail, I go bankrupt and I become a leper: unable to gain well paid employment or even have a mobile phone or broadband contract, let alone rent an apartment.

Therefore there's a temptation to use substances to help me perform at the top of my game. With a strong coffee in the morning, I'll be able to concentrate on writing code all day. With a few glasses of wine or a sleeping pill, I'll be able to unwind and relax after a day of hacking away at complex computer systems. Uppers and downers. Round and round. Highs and lows. This is the life that we should all lead, isn't it?

I'm staggeringly well paid for what I do. Why would I want a lower paid job? Why would I want to be on average Joe wages when I could earn five times as much doing the same job? Why would anybody deliberately impoverish themselves? However, my high-risk, high-reward strategy demands that I perform to the best of my abilities. Without substances, would I have been able to get my foot in the door and hang on to a highly sought-after job?

Thus, caffeine, alcohol, sleeping pills and tranquillisers circle like vultures. I need the effects of substances, in order to cope with the life that I'm built for - I've been in this career for over 20 years. How am I supposed to cope without the unhealthy coping tools that I used successfully... until I had a breakdown; a burnout.

What goes up must come down. The candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long.

It's better to burn out than fade away.

Even music has become performance enhancing. I listen to high-tempo dance music - blasting away at 130 beats per minute - in order to focus my mind and put myself into a trancelike state where I can concentrate on software code for hours and hours. What must the effect be, to be in such an unnatural state for so long?

What must it be like to have a job that brings you into the unpredictable chaotic world of people and human interactions? What must it be like to have a job that's full of intrigue and unexpected surprises? What must it be like to never have to fight your constant existential crises and suppress all invasive musings about the absurdity of existence, because you're just a rat waiting for the next food pellet: when's the next order going to arrive; the next email; the next patient; the next customer?

As I do battle with boolean algebra every single day, there is no comforting wiggle-room of the humanities - computer says yes or computer says no; true or false. There are no shades of grey in my world - there's a right answer and a wrong answer. I sit in front of three screens and I try to figure out the right answer. I can go for weeks without speaking to another person. It fills me with terror sometimes, thinking that the ultimate arbiter of whether I've succeeded or failed is a cold, rational and unthinking machine. It's like playing chess against myself.

Some would say I'm a success story. Isn't the whole reason for paying attention at school and trying hard during your exams so that you can land a good job and get promoted into a position of seniority? Aren't we all trying to climb the greasy pole and get a big fat wage packet at the end of the working week? Aren't we all trying to compete and win? I won... didn't I?

I wouldn't be so churlish as to say "it's tough at the top" and of course, I'm laughably far from the top, but I'm sure there would be a plenty long queue of people who'd swap their salary for mine, so let's not be too hasty. It's worth considering just how destabilising my career choices have been to my mental health: feast & famine, boom & bust and the ever-present pressure to perform. Alcohol and caffeine are ubiquitous - as they are everywhere - but you haven't seen alcoholism in the workplace to quite the extent I have, unless you've also worked in the City of London in investment banking.

They say that banking greases the wheels of capitalism. Alcohol greases the wheels of banking.

The most successful strategy that I could play right now would be to have have two or three strong cappuccinos every day at work, and at least a bottle of wine every night. I'm sure my career and my bank balance would benefit handsomely from such a strategy.

I do worry about my mental health, but in this capitalist society, who has the time & money to stop and think about such a trifling thing? I'm reminded of this time last year, when I had to discharge myself from hospital against medical advice, to go chasing a banking IT contract. Money, money, money. Find an edge. Do whatever it takes!

You understand, it's not greed that drives me. This is the world we live in. We all need a competitive edge. I have no idea how to function in a world where I'm not compelled to use uppers and downers to help me perform. What do people even do without their morning coffee and their evening wine?

I earned well over a thousand pounds for two days sitting in front of a computer screen thinking "what the f**k am I doing?". I'm winning aren't I? This is what winning looks like, isn't it?

I'm winning... aren't I?

Before I know it, I've had more than the magic two pints and I can't hit a ball to save my life. I've gone beyond the sweet spot. I've had too much to drink and I'm just drunk. There's a fine line between performance enhancing, and substance abusing. I wake up one morning and all I've got is a habit. A stimulant habit. An alcohol habit.

We can all reach for substances to give us an edge, but you're playing a high-stakes game. The bigger you are the harder you fall.

It's almost impossible to change the habits of a lifetime. Of course I'm going to reach for substances when I'm struggling. Of course I'm going to return to the same boom and bust lifestyle that's served me so well, and also threatened to destroy me.

Roll the dice.




You won't BELIEVE what's inside this bag!

7 min read

This is a story about the surprising thing that happened next...

Mystery bag

The Internet is a massive dick. Part military network and part academic collaboration tool, our beloved 'net is now mostly pornography, pirate movies & music, clickbait bullshit and advertising. Also, photos of your dog, cat and/or baby.

Copy and paste this to your Facebook wall for the next hour. 99% of people won't do it because they're evil and stupid and they want kittens to die. You have to copy and paste. No sharing!

Why do we have to suffer the endless hoaxes?

If you were a deadly disease, what kind of deadly disease would you be? If you were a Game of Thrones character, which Game of Thrones character would you be? If you were an Internet quiz type thing, which Internet quiz type thing would you be?

Millions of people, bored at work, are momentarily entertained by vapid bullshit, designed to bring eyeballs to advertisers' content. Our entire culture is being reshaped, not by the little dopamine hit we get every time somebody 'likes' our selfie on Facebook or Instagram, but by advertising revenue.

Newspapers The Guardian and The Observer are held in trust, so that they are free from commercial and political interference, but they are facing commercial difficulties, attempting to adjust to a changing readership. If those newspapers fail, we will have almost no free press. Our beloved BBC is politically influenced, established under a Royal Charter, which effectively makes it a mouthpiece of Her Majesty The Queen.

In our world of clicks, high quality journalism is under threat. Can you imagine BuzzFeed breaking important news stories to the world? Are the editors interested in anything other than the number of readers? Can success only be measured in terms of website visitors?

Our best writers are turning their content creation talents into a psychological game of cat and mouse: who can come up with new viral bullshit to suck in the punters?

Facebook allows us to hone our skills, but Facebook hides most of the statistics from us. Only Facebook knows how many people looked at that photo of your cat, but decided not to give it a thumbs up. Facebook is a private proving ground, where you are microblogging, and you are also learning what kind of content is popular. You're being trained to be yet another BuzzFeed writer.

The rise of user-generated content, blogging, microblogging and social media, is a good thing, but what kind of cultural legacy are we leaving, if everything we consume and create is simply a momentary distraction from our boring jobs? The Internet canon is so heavily influenced by the commercial interests of the advertising industry, that vast swathes of content are locked up in walled gardens or drowned out by the deafening noise of clickbait articles.

Growth hacking is an ever-present temptation, but we can't all sit idle, earning money from the clicks on adverts. Somebody, somewhere, has to generate some real content, and I've really seen enough of other people's children.

Bullshit boring jobs, doing pointless work that's of no value to anybody, is a barrier to the age of leisure, but we're going to need a lot of books, films, computer games and music, to entertain ourselves when we're no longer typing made-up numbers into a spreadsheet, in order to get a mouldy crust of bread.

We're not ready for the age of leisure yet, because there aren't enough Netflix box sets to binge on.

We need to move from an economy that's based on persuading people to buy consumer goods that we don't need, to an economy that rewards people for creative contributions to society, that inform, educate and entertain. Art is a hobby for the rich and privileged. We should all have the opportunity to be a film director, actor, scriptwriter, poet, painter, potter, chef or whatever we want, as long as it adds value to the lives of others.

Measuring value in monetary terms is disingenuous, because money is a token that represents value created by somebody. Somebody had to shepherd the sheep. Somebody had to grow the corn. Somebody had to make the bricks. Money is simply more convenient than barter, because it's really hard to swap a fraction of your house for something you need.

Measuring value in terms of the number of people who viewed your content, is also disingenuous, because it creates an incentive to make something popular not valuable. Free pirate movies are always going to be popular, so the only people who can make art are those who can afford to have it stolen. Movies are made to sell merchandise. Movies are full of product placement. Is that what we want human society to be all about: packaging up the natural world and selling it back to us?

I might sound like a hippy tree-hugger, but it makes me really angry that I have to waste my creative talents, as well as polluting the planet, travelling to get to a pointless job in a pointless building, just so we can all buy more crap that we don't need.

Why can't my job be reading books, watching films and listening to music? In my leisure time I'll write, make movies and compose music. The value that is created is the fantastic stuff that keeps us interested, making life wonderful and enjoyable.

In my utopian society, we won't need more roads, railways and runways. In my utopian society we won't need to take pointless journeys to get to work and for business meetings. In my utopian society, we'll all have much more time to educate our children and get them interested in the world around us.

We already have the agricultural machinery and high-yield farming techniques to feed humanity. We already have the healthcare infrastructure to care for our sick and dying. We already have an adequate transport network to allow us to occasionally visit distant relatives. We already have enough laws, courts, policemen, jails and other mechanisms to protect ourselves from anybody who wants to take more than their fair share.

The idea that people wouldn't do any work if they didn't get paid to do it, is disingenuous. Nurses, teachers and fruit-pickers are paid appallingly, compared with middle managers who do nothing except waste precious resources. Do you suppose that doctors only save lives because they're well paid to do it? Do you imagine that a farmer begrudges the people who share the harvest?

There are roles that are useful and necessary and these are rewarding in their own right. Most 'work' is not necessary, useful or rewarding. Humanity and our planet of finite resources, would benefit a great deal by no longer mandating that we all do pointless make-work.

In my utopia, there would be jobs that you're allowed to do if you want to do them and you're good enough. I'm sure there would be no shortage of applicants, because those people would be respected and admired for their contribution to society. Our gratitude is a much more valuable currency, than useless rectangles of paper and circles of metal: money.

In my utopia, there would be plenty to watch, read and listen to, because creativity would rein supreme. Art would be democratised.

In my utopia, there would be people who smoked cannabis, played computer games and never left the house, but they wouldn't have to suffer the indignity of being told they're lazy useless bums. Simply being part of society is enough of a contribution. Better to be at home relaxing, than clogging up our transport network, going to a job that you hate that contributes nothing to humanity and wastes precious resources.

In my utopia, autobiographies wouldn't be about boring old men who achieved nothing in their lives apart from presiding over untold human misery.

In my utopia, a writer isn't somebody who writes BuzzFeed articles in order to scrape together enough of a pittance to survive.




A Little Joke

1 min read

This is a story about gallows humour...

Jehovahs witnesses

Here's something for your amusement:

Q: What's worse than an abandoned blog?

A: A dead blogger

Not feeling particularly suicidal today, in case you were wondering. I think my mood will worsen before it improves though.

I've got a nice little project to play around with regarding Zero Knowledge Proofs - also known as zero-knowledge Succinct Non-interactive ARguments of Knowledge (zk-SNARK) systems - for Blockchain sidechain tech. Hopefully I can busy myself hacking something fun I want to build, rather than just lying around feeling miserable.

Otherwise, I could always get a job I suppose, although the prospect filled me with enough dread to trigger the downward spiral anyway.

I had another more fun/creative project planned, but the hard numbers just don't make the payoff worth the effort.

Sleepless manic nights spent reading cryptography papers might pay off in the end.




Rolling Stone: a Picture Story

11 min read

This is a story about quicksand...

Koa Tree Camp

After being discharged from psychiatric hospital, what do you think you'd do next? Well, imagine that for months you have been travelling but you haven't been moving.

Things are not stable for me, no matter what my senses tell me. I go to the same office, looking at the same computer screen, surrounded by the same people, for months if not years on end. According to my senses I'm not moving anywhere.

However, my bank balance would tell a very different story. Just sitting mute in a chair, keeping my head down and being a perfect corporate drone who never rocks the boat, means that I am very rapidly travelling... financially. My body and mind don't really agree though.

My moods tell a very different story again. I don't necessarily notice seasonal effects and depression taking hold. I'm not fully able to tell when I'm getting hyped up and excessively involved in work or other projects. I'm not great at judging when it's time to take a break, either because I'm too down or too up.

It is unhealthy and unnatural that I work in the same place, doing the same thing, and working a job that moves at snail's pace. I just don't have the social life and hobbies at the moment to get any balance, let alone the financial means to travel, socialise and pursue pastimes with the usual gusto that I apply to everything.

What happens is that I become like a champagne cork. The pressure builds and builds, and then I explode with frustration.

My journey began with a two week stay in a psychiatric hospital, because I was so beaten down by the task of getting myself off the streets, back from the brink of bankruptcy, beating addiction, working on a massively important high-pressure project, renting an apartment, moving house for the zillionth time, and then realising that I was in an unsustainable situation: I needed to get rid of a 'friend' who thought he'd live with me rent free and get pocket money: for what reason he thought he deserved that, I'm not even sure. I also needed to quit a horrible contract that just wasn't worth the sleepless nights.

Next thing I knew, I was sleeping in a Mongolian yurt in Devon.


Then, I was surfing and hitch-hiking in Cornwall. Hitch-hiking is surprisingly hard, it turns out. Hitch-hiking is a bad way to get around if you have to be in a certain place at a certain time. I'd hitch-hiked once before, earlier in the year, in Ireland, but it turns out the Irish are a lot more friendly, helpful and trusting than the British, based on my anecdotal evidence.

Back in London after my Westcountry adventure, I still felt overwhelmed by depression and the feeling that I was trapped by my job. I had a lovely trip, but it had been very short and coming home was very anti-climactic. I knew I needed to quit my job, but I didn't quite have the guts to terminate a very lucrative contract.

I had made a plan a couple of months prior, to shame HSBC by sleeping rough in Canary Wharf, right by their headquarters. I found it deliciously ironic that they had inadvertently helped one of their customers to avoid bankruptcy, escape homelessness and generally improve their financial situation. I had no doubt that if they'd done their due diligence on me, then I would never have been employed to work on their number one project. I was planning on getting my contract terminated for no reason other than I cared about my job and was trying to do the right thing: acting with ethics and integrity.

But, I still had the contract like a millstone around my neck. I was desperately trapped and depressed about it.

I decided to fly to San Francisco and go to the Golden Gate Bridge. I wanted to illustrate how the desperation of my situation had driven me to contemplate suicide. I also wanted to go because I had planned to go 3 years earlier, but my parents had reneged on a promise and generally conspired to pull the rug out from under my feet at a time when I was terribly vulnerable. What they did was an awful thing, and I wanted to take that trip that I never got to make, because of their horrible behaviour.

I booked a flight for approximately 4 hours' time, packed a bag and left immediately. It's the most impulsive thing I've ever done in my life.

London Heathrow

In San Francisco, a friend kindly picked me up and I dumped my bags at her house. I then borrowed a bike and rode to the Golden Gate Bridge. Less than 24 hours had elapsed since deciding to travel 5,351 miles. I stood in a jetlagged and travel weary state, peering over the edge, looking at the perilous drop to the sea below.

Travel, novelty, adventure, excitement, old friends, social contact, good weather... all of these things are the perfect antidote to depression. Who knew that the prospect of being chained to the same damn desk, in the same damn office, doing the same damn work you've done for 19 years, could lead to a tiny twinge of "Fuck My Life".

Obviously, the whole dumping your bags at your friends' place and then going off and killing yourself thing would be poor social etiquette. Plus I'd arranged to see an old schoolfriend while I was in San Francisco. The potential for positive experiences was massive. In the office, I had found myself hoping for a fire drill just because it would be slightly novel.

Grant Avenue

I'm no dumbass. I know it's important to stop and smell the roses. But, there isn't the time, energy or motivation to do so when you're trapped in the rat race.

In San Francisco I took delight in the simplest of things, like taking a selfie of myself by a road sign that matches my surname. I didn't even do any specific sightseeing or look at a map. I took a trolleycar because I saw one passing. I found myself by landmark buildings, just because I stumbled on them. I walked miles and miles.

My AirBnB host invited me out to a Halloween party. I dressed up. We drove to some house near Mountain View, where there were fascinating Silicon Valley tech people to meet from Google and Apple. That kind of shit generally doesn't happen when you're depressed working your desk job.

I got a tattoo to piss my parents off. My sister has several tattoos and my parents are always giving her a hard time about them. I thought that getting a tattoo would be some gesture of solidarity with my sister, and my parents would have to give both of us a hard time for having one. It was also a kind of souvenir from the trip, and a bit of reminder that I was going to try and stay in the land of the living for a little longer.

I caught up with a schoolfriend who I hadn't seen for years and years. He was supposed to be a mentor on a startup accelerator that I did in 2011, but he'd had to move back to California. It was great to see him, in the Mission district of San Francisco, even if we only had the briefest of time to catch up. Precious moments.

Meeting my friends' second child, and hanging out at their house reading stories to their eldest. Going with the kids to the science museum and playing with the interactive exhibits. Still etched in my mind.

Getting a glimpse into family life, valley startup life, California life... special.

Hanging out with some of the people who I have so much respect and love for... priceless.

I tried to provoke HSBC into terminating my contract immediately, by sending truthful emails, saying things that needed to be said, but were blatantly above my pay grade. Sadly, the mark of a corporate drone is somebody who's completely gutless and two-faced. They emailed me to say they just wanted to have a "routine chat" with me when I got back. No matter how hard I pushed, they wouldn't admit that my contract was effectively terminated, which is what I wanted so I could stay in the USA longer.

Bournemouth Pier

I came home. I went into the office and exploited the fact that nobody would be straight with me. I kinda got my goodbyes from everybody, even though they were "great to see you back in the office" but only those who were nice genuine people seemed to be unaware that the long knives were drawn. I loved the look of shock on the faces of those whose incompetence I had exposed.

I shaved my stupid beard and kept my moustache, because it was now November. There's no greater pleasure than having your contract terminated from a 'straight' job, when you're wearing a stupid moustache and you have a tattoo. This was all part of the plan in preparation for the sleeping rough by HSBC headquarters anyway.

Then, I was deflated again.

It'd been a helluva journey. Psychiatric hospital, Devon, Cornwall, Mongolian yurts, surfing, hitch-hiking, sleeping on the floor of New York's JFK airport, cycling over the Golden Gate Bridge, sightseeing in Silicon Valley, old friends, nice work colleagues, miserable office drones, contract termination... relax!

Bonfire night - November 5th - I was still pretty hyped up. For some reason I decided that I wanted to whizz around London giving out brightly coloured cardboard stars. I think I spent 90 minutes from conceiving the idea, to then whizzing round London sticking stickers on stuff, giving out stars, losing my luggage and generally careering out of control somewhat. That was classic hypomania. What gets held down must go up. It was such a relief to be released from my soul-destroying contract that the nervous energy almost demanded to be released by doing something crazy.

I decided I needed to see some neglected UK friends. I zoomed down to Bournemouth and stayed in the Royal Bath Hotel by the pier. I met up with one of my most loyal friends, and met his son, caught up with him and his wife, saw their house. I caught up with another friend. Friends who had offered to take me kitesurfing didn't materialise, but it didn't matter... I'd already had a very action-packed trip.

Sleep Out

Then, finally, the night of the sleep out came. Lots of things got conflated in my mind: "Hacking" humanity, Techfugees, homelessness, bankruptcy, HSBC's unethical behaviour, soul-destroying bullshit jobs and the unbelievably erratic, exhausting, stressful path I had taken to reach that point.

I always knew that keeping moving is the answer to staying alive, but there's so much financial incentive to be trapped into a chair, chained to a desk, not moving anywhere, not doing anything, not talking to anybody.

As I burnt through my money on rent and bills over the winter months, I knew the day would come when I'd have to go back into the rat race, and it depressed the hell out of me. By Christmas Day I was in a pretty shitty state. By New Year's Eve I was cutting my arms with a razor blade.

For the last 4 months, I've sat at my desk, not saying anything. For the last 4 months, I haven't rocked the boat, I haven't tried to improve anything, I haven't tried to do a good job. For the last 4 months, I've kept a low profile. My bosses couldn't be more pleased. My bank balance is much improved. In theory, my mental health should have done something but it doesn't feel like my mood's done anything but sink.

How am I supposed to reconcile the drudgery of the rat race with the excitement of the crazy tale that led me here? When I look back 6 months, 12 months, 18 months, things were very different. Are things better? It doesn't feel like it.

I'm still not moving, I'm not travelling. I still don't have my needs met.

If I want to survive, I need to be moving. It's not sustainable for me to stagnate. I wasn't built to just sit and rot at a desk.

If I stop moving, I sink into the quicksand.




The Open Source Brain

12 min read

This is a story about an ambitious project...

Comic book bad guy

How would you go about uploading yourself to the cloud? Have you thought about death, and what happens to your personality, your mind, once the apparatus of your body ceases to be a viable vessel for its preservation? Do you want to live forever?

I unfortunately lost my original Google Mail account - - which I had since 2004. I've now accrued 6.6 gigabytes of email across my new accounts - and - which are both managed by Google and therefore fully indexed for search.

Did you know that you can download all your data from Facebook? I've been a member of Facebook for the best part of 10 years. Facebook probably knows me better than any other piece of technology. It knows where I've been, and who I was there with. It knows who I talk to, and how regularly. It knows what I've chosen to share, as status updates, which are often quite personal and private.

If you dig around in the old parts of the Internet, you can even find me in the Usenet newsgroups, writing under my own name, back in the 1990s. The old content of newsgroups has been preserved for posterity by Google.

So much of my digital identity has been lost, as I moved off the dial-up Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) onto my first email addresses with CompuServe, America On-Line and Hotmail. I then made a bad habit of using work email addresses for personal mail. That means that when I left those companies, I left behind all my mail archives. All that content is now in the virtual trash can.

Losing my Google Mail account felt catastrophic at the time. I even leveraged my contacts and managed to get David Singleton - Engineering Director at Google - to try to resurrect my account. However, I had been caught hacking, so I wasn't shown any favours. My pleas that it was "white hat" were ignored, when I was in clear violation of the Terms of Service.

I used to write on a forum for the British Kite Surfing Association (BKSA). That forum was then decommissioned, and all those old posts were lost forever. I then moved to the forum, and you can still find my old content on there. I used to be one of the top contributors.

But, would you even be able to reconstruct my personality, from all that email, and those social media contributions?

What's the difference between a film adaptation and the book it's based on? In the film, it's very hard to include much of the internal monologues of characters. Using a voiceover, a narrator, sometimes works, but often we lose the very thing that makes a book so wonderful - to know how the characters think & feel.

When I'm writing something for somebody else to read, more often than not, I'm instructing somebody to act, or passing on information. It's rare that I'm opening up and giving an insight to the inner-workings of my mind. In fact, with most interactions, there is a necessary formality. I'm sure my colleagues wouldn't appreciate it if I polluted our emails with random thoughts and updates on my state of mind.

I've always had a candid, open, style of writing and speaking. I leave little to the imagination about the way I'm thinking and feeling. However, it's still a guess though, because there is actually very little opportunity in life to really open up and let the true essence of yourself flood out.

Dark clouds

We are always held back by that voice in our head that says: "but what will people think?". We worry how we are going to be viewed, when we write, when we speak. We are constantly self-censoring and projecting things in a certain way, saying certain things, to try to maintain an image that we deem necessary for our relationships.

"I can't tell my boss that I'm on the verge of a nervous breakdown, because they will think I'm unreliable" we might say to ourselves. Or we might say "I can't let this attractive person know that I have any faults, or maybe they won't fall in love with me". We might say "I can't let my family know I'm on the brink of suicide, because that will stress them out".

The version of yourself in all those emails, videos, social media posts... it's not a very true version of yourself. You've been constrained by social protocols. "How are you?" is always followed by "I'm fine thanks". Nobody expects you to reply "I'm on the verge of killing myself. My life is misery". Nobody will thank you for giving an honest answer.

So what happens is we live a lie, and there is no true version of yourself in existence, except for the one inside your head that you never let anybody see.

If we were to reconstruct you from everything you ever wrote, everything you ever said, we'd get a corrupt version of you. The version of you that would be digitally recreated would say and do all the right things, but the thoughts inside that virtual brain wouldn't be right. All those things that you wanted to say, but didn't, simply wouldn't exist.

I have to write 1,318 words in this post, and then I've hit 300,000 words. It was easy. A novel is considered to be a text that is over 40,000 words. I've written the equivalent of 7 novels, by that measure. It's taken just 10 months.

Would you find it easy, to dump the contents of your brain out, in all its gory detail? No, I'm sure you wouldn't. Even when you're writing a diary, you're probably thinking "what if somebody read this?". You even worry about what you think of you. You try to impress yourself. You try to hide your innermost feelings, even from yourself.

The Internet is full of abandoned blogs. You can see a flurry of activity that normally spans a few months, and then peters out. You can see the sporadic posts, when a dead blog is resurrected, months or even years later. However, what's rare is the person who writes consistently, reliably, regularly.

There are piles and piles of blogospam out there, but can you really reconstruct a personality from any of them? There are people who blog about knitting, people who blog about their pets, people who blog about stargazing, people who blog about sports. Can I infer who you are, or who you were from any of this vast quantity of data? Do I really get a sense of the person, from your online persona?

Search index

Google has analysed my 300,000 words of content, and tried to figure out what I'm writing about. Google has tried to figure out what's significant in this body of work.

Somewhere in Google's servers, everything I've written has been indexed for search. In a way, I'm already alive in the cloud. People from all corners of the Earth can find me, when searching for topics that Google knows are significant. Those seekers can know how I feel, what I think. They can delve into a very private world that you ordinarily would never get to glimpse.

Do you want to live forever? Perhaps you already do. The recorded history of humanity survives death, even in the stories we tell about our dead friends and relatives, and influential members of a community. Somebody somewhere has seen your digital content, even if it's just the electronic eye of a machine. Who knows where your data is going to end up?

Those who educate, inform and entertain have a reach that goes beyond their family and friends. Those who put themselves out into the public domain have a reach beyond living memory.

My mother looks after the archives of those few people who we deem to be culturally important enough to preserve, for the Bodleian Library in Oxford - one of the oldest libraries in Europe. While the library has a digitisation project, aren't we looking at things the wrong way?

107 billion people have been alive, ever. That means you're part of about 7% of the human creative output that could ever be recorded. Writing is a relatively recent phenomenon, and the ability to output to a digital medium with no lengthy conversion process and no loss of fidelity, is something that has only come about in the lifetime of those who are alive today.

When I write, it's not as a medieval monk, in some priceless hand-scribed tome that will be squirrelled away in some private library. Instead, I write as a citizen of the planet. My writing is captured in the public repository of the Internet, and is accessible to almost every living soul.

And, what advantage, the fact that what I have created has already been digitised? Well... my content is already in a format that's friendly for machine learning.

Speech recognition and optical character recognition can understand the spoken and printed word, but it's slow. The cloud has already greedily swallowed my 300,000 words, and processed them in order to serve them up to any consumer who cares to use them.

Is it arrogant and naïve to consider whether there is any merit in this hefty lump of text? Well, we are not going to know how Artificial Intelligence and machine learning are going to advance in the coming decades. Moore's Law predicts the exponential growth of computing horsepower that can be bought for a fixed cost. However, the game changer is when computers are no longer programmed, but are instead taught how to do things.

Skydive through the clouds

How would I go about teaching a computer to be like me, to think like me, to speak like me? Well, it would be like teaching a child. I'd sit down and talk to the computer. We would have a conversation.

However, how long would it take to speak to a computer, before you had provided adequate input? How long would it take the computer to process the sound into a stream of text? How long would it then take the computer to process the stream of text into a form that it can understand? How long would it take the computer to then crunch the numbers and attempt to say its first words?

If I was going about this project, I'd want to provide a body of text in a consistent format. We all speak with different voices. We all have our own unique style. Language is a somewhat crude way of expressing yourself. Human communication is full of flaws, when it comes to transmitting the contents of our brains from one being to another.

I could feed a computer with digitised books. I could feed a computer with Wikipedia. I could just let a computer loose on the open Internet. However, would it be able to cope, without context? How is the poor computer going to cope with all those different voices, different languages, different agendas, different writing styles? How is a computer going to get from the complete works of William Shakespeare, to understanding the inner-workings of the Bard's mind?

I'm sure we're already within touching distance of having a computer system write a convincing love letter. We write great volumes of soppy crap to the objects of our affection. However, while the art of seduction and the emotional patterns of those who are engaged in the courtship ritual are not hard for our mechanised chums to understand, do we really know much about a person from their attempts to get their leg over?

For me, there's so much more depth to the human mind, than what we can see through forced interactions in the context of getting along with one another.

There's so much magic in the secret diary. From Anne Frank to Adrian Mole, and agony aunt columns, we voraciously devour anything that's private and intimate. Words are normally a crude means of making any kind of emotional contact with the being that hides behind those glassy eyes.

This essay is not an instruction manual on how a machine may pass the Turing Test, but when you build a computer system, you also have to think about how you're going to prime it. What is your input data? Garbage in, garbage out.

In a way, we have already succeeded. If I died tomorrow, and you wanted to know more about who I was, how I thought, what made me tick, you could do a lot worse than perusing the pages of this particular publication. If you can't get a sense of who I am from these 300,000 words, is there really any hope that Artificial Intelligence will ever be human-like. If we can't understand ourselves, what hope do machines have of understanding us?

Now, the question is: did I write this, or did I get a computer system to do it for me?

Bipolar computer

The brilliant thing about AI, is there's no wiring diagram, no schematics. Just like a brain.