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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

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Just Another Highly-Strung Prima Donna

10 min read

This is a story about arrogance...

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I have spent huge chunks of my career helping the rich to get richer, not doing anything useful for society at all. I have suffered as a wage slave, working a bullshit meaningless job, doing nothing except making the world a worse place. I have been denied the pleasure of being a builder creating something real and tangible.

I'm very jealous of the engineers who get to work on useful projects - helping to feed, house and clothe the masses. I wish I was working on something more worthwhile.

The project I'm working on is quite simple really: ask a bunch of people a bunch of questions, and gather the answers so that they can be analysed. I suppose you could call it "big data" if you wanted to use an over-hyped phrase that's in vogue at the moment, but really it's just a big survey; an opinion poll.

I've developed software for nuclear submarines - that was my first full-time job. I've developed software for trains and busses. I've developed software for every school in a whole country. I've made computer games that were played by half a million people. The computer games were the hardest.

As an old-school programmer, I slaved away at my keyboard, creating the graphics, sound, music, and endlessly playtesting my games, to make them as good as possible before I released them to the general public. That was hard work.

But it was rewarding.

The challenge made it rewarding.

It was rewarding because it was difficult.

Creating an online survey is not difficult. I expect you could do one in a few minutes, using something like SurveyMonkey.

So, how do you make your day job interesting if the project is not challenging? Well, there's a lot of challenge in getting anything done in a big organisation. It's a million times harder to do anything when you're inside a big organisation, and things go painfully slowly. The interesting part is in trying to build anything at all, in the first place, and in trying not to build something that sucks, just because big organisation software always really sucks.

One programmer can make a game in one month. Two programmers can make a game in three months. Ten programmers can make a game in two years. And so on. And so on.

I'm not saying my colleagues aren't any good. I'm just saying that trying to learn computer programming as your day job, working for a big organisation, is pretty much impossible. The only way that anybody ever became a good programmer was by first being allowed to work on a whole self-contained project themselves, and having to support and maintain the code; having to deal with angry users reporting bugs; having to be up in the middle of the night figuring out a mess that they created. You can't learn that stuff if you're just a junior member of a big team.

It does make sense to break a system up into components which are then assembled to create the finished product. It does.

What does not make sense is dividing up a piece of work which could be easily accomplished by a single developer. It does not make sense to have 8, 10 or even 12 programmers all trying to work on the same piece of code. It is not fast. It is not efficient. It does not produce a good end result.

However, would I like to have to support and maintain my code after the project is live, on my own?

No.

Of course not.

Whenever I have finished something which was big and complicated, and hard work to complete, then I never want to see it ever again. However, if I'm the person who created all the code, then I'm the only one who knows how anything works, and it's a very difficult steep learning curve for any poor unfortunate who has to come after me to unpick my work.

In this regard, I suppose it's necessary to have a bunch of people, so that the 'hero' code warrior doesn't saunter off into the distance, leaving some other poor person to carry the can.

So many times in my career I have inherited somebody else's mess.

Which is why the pleasure and professional pride I derive from my work at the moment, is in the effort I put into making a system which is simple and easy to maintain, and easy to support. There's a temptation as a good developer, to be really smart and do things in ways which seem very elegant and beautiful to the trained eye of a highly skilled engineer, but are completely impenetrable to your average journeyman junior programmer, just learning the ropes. I take huge pride in creating deceptive simplicity. Yes, it's great to show off how smart you are by creating something complicated, but it's so much harder to create something that looks simple.

I am intolerant of the incompetence of a highly paid consultant who I have to suffer. "Why would you put that there?" "Why would you do it like that?" "Why didn't you read that comment?" "Why are you making such a mess of everything?" "Why have you introduced all this unnecessary complexity?" are questions I want to yell at my incompetent colleague all the time.

My junior colleagues are, well, junior. I can't get mad at people who are just learning. I have patience for learners. I spend a lot of time coaching and mentoring, helping my junior colleagues to learn and develop.

My graduate colleagues are stupendous. They have amazing ideas. They produce great work. They are smart and a pleasure to work with.

Why oh why oh why do I have to work with somebody who doesn't deserve the massive consultancy fee that they charge? It angers me that they are lagging behind the graduates and dragging the project into the dirt; making a complete pigs ear of everthing. It would be so much better if they weren't on the team, because they are so slow, and what they do produce all has to be re-done, so it creates a huge amount of extra work for me. Their work is riddled with bugs and defects. Their work is shoddy, so their contribution is not welcome: it's counter-productive.

Of course, I shouldn't rip into colleagues on a public platform. But, they ruin my day and undermine all my hard work, threatening the success of the project, so why the hell shouldn't I let rip? They're costing the organisation a shittonne of money, which is a complete waste of money in my opinion.

Anyway, I often think "would it be better if everybody just stepped aside and watched me work?". I think "would it be better if I designed and built the entire system, on my own?".

No.

No it would not be better.

I would finish the project, but I wouldn't want to support it. I wouldn't want to maintain my own code. I wouldn't want to ever look at the code ever again. I wouldn't want anything to do with my code or the project. That's not fair on the poor sods who would have to support and maintain my code.

It's also not fair for just one person to have all the enjoyment of creating an entire system, and then to ride off into the sunset believing that it's a job well done, when software is considered to be an asset - all the code will be preserved and future development teams will be forced into attempting to re-use it, when really it should be thrown away. Decrepit old systems, where all the original developers have long since left the company, should never be resurrected, but they always are. Idiot management always wants to adapt a system for a purpose it was never designed for, and that nightmare always falls on some poor unsuspecting underpaid junior programmers, who will have a horrible life, being forced to work with somebody else's code and never being allowed to create their own system.

Sure, the arrogant part of me wants the glory - the heroics - of creating some massive complex system as a one-man team. I don't want the faff and the hassle of having asshat overpaid idiot incompetent consultants, messing up my stuff. I don't want to be slowed down by people who aren't as experienced and quick.

But, I know it's better for everyone if we do things the "modern" way.

I wish I had been born earlier, so that I could have been one of those programming gods who created an entire video game, but I suppose I had that glory. The first iPhone was my opportunity to create retro games, in just the same way that the early video game pioneers did - a bedroom hacker. I grabbed that opportunity and I loved it, except I also learned that I never want to ever touch my code again when I'm finished - I want to release something and then forget about it.

In this era of the web, people expect products to be maintained. Software no longer ships on cartridges, floppy disks or CDs. Software can be updated via the internet. Software is delivered via browsers. Software is constantly being updated by the developers, like websites are constantly updated, so software development had to change to reflect this. Software development is now a team sport, but I came from an era when a prima donna like me could do everything on their own.

I fear this essay has revealed an unpleasant side of my character. I fear that I've crossed lines that I should not have done. I fear that my arrogance is on display very badly.

Still, I had to share this. It's my habit to share things that are bothering me, and/or that I feel very strongly about.

It's a difficult time, because there's a lot of pressure and stress. I feel like yelling "shut up and stand back" and "hold my beer" while I roll up my sleeves and get things done. When I come under extreme pressure and things are going wrong, I retreat into my comfort zone: working in isolation. Nobody was with me when I learned how to debug. Nobody was with me when I figured out how to solve complex technical issues. I had to figure those things out on my own. Nobody comes to me with the answers: I have to figure them out, and I do that on my own in isolation. When I get stressed, the last thing I want is any "team" - the team adds no value in those difficult situations where there's a dreadful gremlin in the system, and it does take some one-man heroics to find and fix the problem.

I've written vastly more than I intended to, because I'm very highly-strung at the moment; the pressure is immense; the deadline is imminent.

I can hear colleagues' angry voices in my head:

"You're not the only one who's worked hard on this"

"You're not the only one who cares"

"You're not the only one who's made a valuable contribution"

"You're not as good as you think you are"

"You're arrogant"

"You're full of yourself"

"You think you're so great, and everybody else is inferior"

"You're not a team player"

I know I would have had a breakdown a long time ago if it wasn't for the team. I know that the project would not have been as much fun if it hadn't been a team effort. I know that it doesn't end well when I reach the finish line and collapse; that it's not a good way to finish a project, when there are ongoing requirements for support and maintenance. I know that arrogance and delusions of grandeur are a problem for me.

Anyway, this is how I've spent my weekend: worrying about work.

 

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New iPhone is Underwhelming

4 min read

This is a story about obsolescence...

iPhone

I wasn't excited about the launch of the new iPhone, but I ended up getting one. My old iPhone 6 had served me well for years, but it was annoyingly short of free space, which meant continuously deleting stuff - a time consuming pointless exercise. The battery life was terrible, but I had managed to replace the battery quite inexpensively myself, so that wasn't an excuse for getting a new iPhone. The back was slightly scratched, but the screen was pretty good. The mute button no longer worked and the charging port was unreliable, only working at certain angles, which clinched the decision to upgrade.

I expected to be more pleased with the new iPhone.

But, I just put it in my pocket and carried on like it was no big deal.

Sure, the camera is better, the screen is better. Sure it's a bit more responsive; less laggy. However, there was virtually zero impact - no wow factor whatsoever.

When Apple introduced the fingerprint reader that was a big deal, because it saved having to type the unlock code every time, which is a vast improvement of usability. Given that I unlock my phone and do something with it 50 times a day, on average, you can imagine that it was a huge saving, not having to type my PIN all those times.

Since then, there hasn't been a 'killer' feature.

I'm not that bothered about having a better camera, because I have a good camera anyway with a much better lens and sensor than any smartphone could ever have. There simply isn't the room in a smartphone to include a large lens and sensor, so the image quality is always going to be very inferior to a proper camera.

Being able to unlock my phone with my face makes no difference to me versus being able to do it with my fingerprint. Face ID is not an improvement. Yes, biometric security is important to me, but I don't care whether it's fingerprint or facial recognition.

I don't play games on my phone or use anything which requires a powerful processor or lots of memory. I just browse the web, send and receive emails and messages, scroll through Facebook and Twitter, and access my banking apps. I could have stayed with my iPhone 6 and been perfectly OK, to be honest.

A friend who always gets the new iPhone, even when it's a minor upgrade, such as from the X to the XS, justifies his upgrades because of the frequency with which he uses his phone. This argument would also support my desire to upgrade too, given that I'm a heavy smartphone user and I have the disposable income, but it frankly depressed me that I spent the price of a reliable second-hand car on a gadget upgrade I really didn't need.

It's a year since I upgraded, and the screen on my iPhone XS is now scratched to pieces. Apparently the glass is very shatter resistant, but it's very prone to scratches. It's really disappointing to have bought a brand new cutting-edge gadget, and to find that it's not durable in everyday use situations. I have not abused my iPhone in any way. The scratches are all from simply being in my pocket, or on tabletops.

I haven't bought the new iPhone. I am not going to get the new new iPhone, because there's no way I can justify the expense for such a minor improvement.

It's kind of sad that I'll never re-experience that wonderful moment I got my first iPhone. That first iPhone was a real game-changer. That first iPhone was so transformative for human-computer interactions. I would be lost without having a smartphone and mobile internet available at all times. I - and so many others - have become dependent on the various communication apps, plus maps, taxis, banking and all the other things, which are so convenient to access through smartphones. My addiction to iPhone games was exhausted when I designed, built and released some for sale in the App Store, but I know that the impulse to check my various apps for notifications and new content is deeply engrained... perhaps an addiction, except it's one which does me no harm.

It must surely be time for a technology innovation which will inspire me again, like the original iPhone did.

 

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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.

 

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Cake And Eat It

9 min read

This is a story about a completed jigsaw puzzle...

Summer house cake

When I was 28 I was so depressed that I couldn't work. I couldn't face the outside world. I couldn't face the office 9 to 5 Monday to Friday routine. I couldn't face the glacial pace that projects moved at. I couldn't face the lack of productivity. I couldn't face the wastefulness of large organisations. I couldn't face the dead wood, being dragged along by those of us who wanted to actually create some f**king software.

My behaviour became erratic. The symptoms my my mood disorder - bipolar - made me a dysfunctional individual for long enough to cause problems in an ordinary office type environment: mainly my lengthy absence due to to the aforementioned depression. Nobody had ever much cared about me being hypomanic in the office, because it allowed me to deliver very complicated projects on time, to a high standard of quality.

I quit my job in 2008 and sat in my garden making iPhone Apps - mainly games. They sold very well and I was number one in the App Store charts for a brief time. Suddenly, I was earning a lot of royalties and I was comparatively wealthy.

I decided that I hated office work and corporate IT work - I hated big software projects - but that I should start a small business. I retrained as an electrician. I did all the training, bought a van and started trading.

Electrician

My electrician business traded profitably, but I kept getting asked to do freelance software work, which paid twice as much as my electrical work, and I was obviously much better at it, given that I've got 20+ years of commercial software experience and about 18+ months of commercial electrical experience. It's a lot less stressful being a software consultant than it is being an electrician.

I decided to combine my entrepreneurial side - the iPhone Apps and the small business - to create a startup which would have a software product which could be licensed, so that I could make money while I slept: it was a scalable business model.

During all this erratic behaviour, I was making a ton of money, I designed a built a beautiful summer house in my garden, I had a wakeboarding boat, I threw lavish garden parties. I was having the time of my life, except I was in a very toxic, abusive relationship.

I ended the relationship and my life continued to improve. In fact, my life kept on improving.

Soon, I was enrolled on a prestigious startup accelerator program which takes 8,000 applicants for every place, and only offers 10 teams the chance to be mentored by senior executives from Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, Paypal and a bunch of other great tech companies, plus the opportunity to pitch on "demo day" to a packed auditorium full of venture capitalists and angel investors, and raise a huge amount of investment.

My company was already profitable enough to pay my co-founder and I a decent salary and hire our first full-time employee. That was entirely bootstrapped: the company was built from nothing. My co-founder and I built a profitable startup without taking a single cent from any member of friends or family, or risking any of our own money.

This was my cake and eat it moment.

I worked too hard for too long. On the accelerator program mentor madness was fine for the teams who just had an idea, but my co-founder and I had a profitable business to run. We had customers who needed supporting. We had sales deals which needed to be closed. The rest of our cohort were happily burning the money they'd raised - making a loss - while our startup was living within its means and growing organically... in fact it was growing rapidly organically.

The problem was that toxic, abusive relationship.

She wasn't kind. She wasn't supportive. She didn't want me to succeed. She was just plain mean and totally inflexible; uncompromising. It wasn't fair, because I had supported her when she wanted to change career, and I had also been a very loyal loving boyfriend. Of course I could have split up with her and run off into the sunset with a lovely girl from the tech startup scene who could see the potential in me and the potential of my startup, but I let loyalty and a sense of "doing the right thing" get the better of me.

Since then, there hasn't been a lot of cake eating.

Divorce became extremely acrimonious in 2013, after a harrowing period when the abuse and the trauma was sufficient to give me PTSD - I was barricaded in rooms and defecating in a bucket to avoid physical harm and at least give myself what little protection I could. Verbal abuse and violent kicking and punching of the door was so frequent it was literally torture. My abuser was keeping me trapped with threats of violence, and I starved, I was thirsty and I had to sh*t and piss in a bucket.

Mercifully, we separated in August 2013.

Trauma doesn't heal overnight.

The divorce dragged on into 2014, ruining my second startup and depriving me of all my liquid capital - my money - which I needed to start another business. The divorce ruined me every bit as much as the toxic relationship and abusive marriage did. The divorce left me so physically drained, traumatised, financially taken advantage of, exhausted and stressed, that I broke down completely. I ended up sleeping rough. I ended up homeless. I was wrecked.

Briefly, at the end of 2014 I had a nice apartment in Swiss Cottage, a lovely commute on the Jubilee line to Canary Wharf and a well paid consultancy contract with Barclays. Was I having my cake and eating it? No. The divorce and the separation had caused me such horrible PTSD and financial distress that for almost that whole year I had been sleeping rough and in a homeless hostel. My life was very fragile; my recovery was only green shoots.

In 2015 I had an amazing apartment overlooking the Thames with panoramic views of all the London landmarks. I had a great consultancy contract with HSBC. Was I having my cake and eating it? No. I was so distressed by the financial troubles I'd had that I worked unsustainable hours and got very sick, and had to be hospitalised. I had to be kept in a secure psychiatric ward for my own safety.

In 2016 I had the same apartment. I had a great consultancy contract. I was less stressed about the erratic nature of my life and the financial boom and bust, but I certainly didn't feel comfortable spending money.

In 2017 I had the same apartment and a great consultancy contract with Lloyds Banking Group. A large blood clot - a deep-vein thrombosis (DVT) - formed in my leg and it caused the complication that my kidneys failed. I nearly died. I was sick for months with agonising nerve and muscle damage. Out of desperation I took a short contract in Manchester. It was so miserable that I tried to kill myself. I very nearly succeed - I was in a coma for 4 or 5 days in intensive care. I was sectioned and kept in a secure psychiatric ward for my own safety.

By the end of 2017 and into 2018 I had recovered enough to be consulting for an investment bank in London. I was commuting from Wales and staying in crappy AirBnBs. I was well paid but it was the most miserable life. I was homeless, single and coming to terms with having survived a suicide attempt which should definitely have killed me.

Then I got a consultancy contract in Wales. I had a nice girlfriend in Wales, I had a job in Wales and I had a very nice home in Wales with panoramic sea views. I was about to have my cake and eat it.

Then, soon after booking a short holiday, my consultancy contract ended early because the project was finished - I worked very hard and delivered early.

I got another consultancy contract in Wales. I still have that consultancy contract in Wales. I have a girlfriend who I think is amazing and I'm crazy about her. I have very serious feelings for her. I was about to have my cake and eat it.

Now my consultancy contract is ending prematurely. I worked hard and managed to rescue a very important project which was running late. I was working very hard to deliver our project early.

Clearly I work very hard. Clearly, I'm lucky enough to create these opportunties where I could have my cake and eat it but so far nothing's worked out for me.

It may well be possible for me to still have that amazing holiday we've got planned, but it will always be slightly spoiled by the stress of knowing that I don't have secure income when I get home, which makes me worried about money.

You can understand why I'm worried about money, can't you?

You can understand why it's so terrible that my holidays get ruined by having my consultancy contracts unexpectedly cut short, especially when I work so hard and make such a big contribution.

Of course, I could throw caution to the wind and take that luxury holiday anyway. If there's one repeating theme in this story, it's that I always bounce back from adversity. I could risk it all and go ahead with that holiday, which I desperately need and want.

I've been lucky. I got to go to Turkish Disneyland on my own. I got to go to Tulum in Mexico. My luck ran out eventually I guess. I have a beautiful girlfriend who is kind and loving and supportive, I have a gorgeous bengal kitten, I have a very nice great big house. I have a little financial security, but paying for a luxury 2-week holiday has a major negative impact on my meagre financial resources, seen in the context of how bad things can get: months in hospital, sleeping rough and nearly dying on several occasions.

Perhaps it's just not my destiny to have my cake and eat it.

 

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Toys

6 min read

This is a story about spending your paycheque...

Freebord

I think we have several distinct phases of our lives. We begin with no money and there are lots of toys we want, but we can't afford them. Then, we get a Saturday job or some other seasonal work - perhaps during school holidays - and we're able to buy some of the things we want, but these are pretty modest purchases. Then, we get a full-time job, but usually by this point we have to pay rent and bills, so we're still not particularly able to make lavish frivolous purchases. Then, we start a family and all the things we buy from that point onwards are for our kids, although perhaps we get some vicarious enjoyment out of buying toys for our children.

If you're lucky, you'll have a period of your life where your income significantly exceeds your expenditure, and you can buy whatever you want. During this period, you might buy the toys you could never have as a child, or you might buy the toys you were too young to be able to make use of, such as a sports car, a boat or a hang-glider.

If you're really lucky then you'll have a sustained period of wealth, where you can pursue expensive hobbies, which allows you to buy new toys on a regular basis. Every hobby tends to need lots of specialist equipment, and vast amounts of money can be sunk into having the latest and greatest stuff - becoming a "gear" collector.

If you're lucky enough to be wealthy, you've probably managed to save up for a deposit and bought a property. Owning a property can be a nightmare, because of the expense of maintenance, but for the wealthy, there's a huge amount of 'toys' to be bought for the house. No house is complete without being able to play music in every room from your iPhone. No house is complete without a massive flat-screen TV. No house is complete without a whole array of toys - even a vacuum cleaner is a desirable object now, marketed as something to get excited about buying, as opposed to something associated with domestic drudgery. The recent craze for cooking and baking TV shows has meant that our kitchens are filled with expensive toys, such as food mixers and pasta makers.

My house might not have a dining table, chest of drawers, wardrobe, coffee table or other essential items of furniture, such as a bed for visitors, but it does have mesh wifi in every room - a gadget that I could hardly resist, given that I work as a technology professional. Having a reliable wifi connection everywhere in my house is really handy, because it was annoying where I used to live previously, when my smartphone and laptop would drop the connection if I moved from the lounge to the bedroom, or vice-versa.

The toy pictured above - the thing that looks like a skateboard - has been gathering dust in storage for a long while, but as I'm now starting to feel more settled in my house and in this city, I'm beginning to start thinking about getting active. I got one of my bikes fixed, so I can cycle around more as the weather improves. The skateboard type thing allows a person to "snowboard on the street" - you can slide it and stop very easily, unlike a regular skateboard which has no brakes. I need to try to find some local hills with quiet roads, where I can take it out for a ride.

Toys give my life meaning. I'm not working for the sake of working. I'm not working for the sake of putting more zeroes on the end of my net worth. I'm not working for children. I'm not working even to obtain status symbols. I work because it gives me plenty of money to buy toys. Of course, I enjoy a very high standard of living - I eat out and I take nice holidays - but I also like being able to have nice things. I was rummaging through my boxes which I haven't unpacked, and I realised that I have some really cool stuff. I'm still attached to my stuff, even though it's just material possessions that I've lived without for years - I worked hard to buy those toys and I spent a lot of time picking them out, so I'm glad that I've still got a lot of my stuff.

As my health improves and I begin to feel happier and more settled in my new home and new city, I'm starting to think about how I might like to spend my leisure time. Of course, there's always excitement in spending money on new toys, but it's been great to rummage through my boxes and find things which I haven't had the time to play with, because life got really difficult for a long time.

It felt nice to buy new clothes last weekend, and I also feel glad that I didn't buy any toys or gadgets, because I always feel buyer's remorse for squandering my money on stuff, when I already own so many cool toys and gadgets. I might buy a coffee table and a hoover this weekend, which is plenty of retail therapy - it'll definitely scratch the itch.

I'm very spoiled, that I've been able to furnish my house with stuff I chose from Ikea, and it seems wrong to say that during a lot of that process I haven't enjoyed it - I've been overwhelmed with the stress of moving house and getting myself set up in a position where I can live an ordinary life. I sat and slept on the floor when I first moved in, because I didn't have a single item of furniture. My washing machine wasn't delivered on time, so I was running out of clean clothes. Stress can ruin things which are supposed to be fun. Now I'm through the worst of the stress, I am now beginning to appreciate how lucky I am.

When I attempt to make sense of life - why bother? - then it's easy to reach one of two conclusions: either we should have sex, take drugs and get drunk as much as possible, to maximise our pleasure in a hedonistic way, or we should spend our money on things which bring us joy, such has holidays and toys. I appreciate that children are the traditional route to giving our lives meaning and purpose, but it's selfish and unethical to bring children into this messed up world. Probably better to play with a few toys than to inflict the agony of existence onto a child who didn't need to be brought into this world.

I guess I'm just a child.

 

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Why I'm Building NickBot™

8 min read

This is a story about projects...

Nick Grant

I work with a whole bunch of people who will automate anything you can possibly imagine - they're obsessed with automation. I suppose I'm an unusual engineer in the sense that I don't share the enthusiasm my colleagues have for robotic, repetitive, automated processes. If I do something just once I'm often satisfied, so I start looking for the next new and novel experience. I suppose that's why my skills are always in demand: Because most engineers want to build something that they think is going to last forever, but in reality there are always unforeseen problems. I take particular pleasure from diagnosing and fixing the gremlins that were never supposed to exist, making software scale up in ways it was never designed to do, and doing the dirty work of keeping the lights on.

How I came to be working as a software engineer and how I came to be a writer, has nothing to do with the pursuit of a childhood dream. I was simply inspired by a schoolfriend. Whatever he was interested in - which was writing, journalism and computing - was something that I became interested in.

It seemed obvious to put my programming skills to good use, once I'd found a problem that I wanted to solve: How do we let people who feel worthless and suicidal know that we care that they're still alive? It seemed like technology could easily solve this problem.

I built something.

It was just software. There was a Facebook page and a Twitter account, and behind it was a little piece of software.

It worked.

But, nobody really cared.

People build cool apps every day. In fact there are thousands of new apps being released every day. When I started building iPhone apps in 2008, there were just a handful of new apps every day, and everybody with an iPhone could check out the new apps to see if there were any good ones. Now, there are not enough hours in the day to download and try out all the apps that are released. We are completely overwhelmed with a deluge of new apps and websites that spring up every single day.

So, I decided to build something that very few people could build: A project so ambitious and substantial, that nobody except an eccentric rich fool would embark upon, because it was nothing but a folly. I decided to write.

People write every day. There are millions of people who call themselves writers. Some of them will actually publish. There is vastly too much published each day, to be able to read it all: It's the same overwhelming deluge problem, faced by anybody hoping that their new app will get noticed, in a crowded market.

However, the combination of vast amounts of experience, with an enormous variety of different technologies, plus the hard work of having written and published a substantial body of text, could provide a reasonable launchpad for something.

It takes next to zero effort to set up a Facebook page or a Twitter account. Thinking of a name, choosing a profile picture, writing a short bio... all those things are easy.

Building a following is something that's fairly easy to do, but is not quick to do. You have to offer something that people want, and you have to keep giving people what they want, so they keep coming back, until you reach the point where growth becomes organic; viral.

So, writing every day is the bait; the lure. You'll see it all the time - suddenly your favourite funny meme page, cartoon strip, inspirational quote tweeter or Instagram influencer is trying to sell you something. It's the old bait-and-switch trick. Sometimes you follow artists, but artists need to eat. You might be offended that they try to sell you a T-shirt, a mug, a book or some other branded merchandise, but how the hell do you expect them to pay their rent?

So, that leaves me.

I've kinda got the time and money - as well as the skills - to take on a ridiculous project that has no profit potential: Build a folly.

But what is this folly?

Perhaps it's already built, for me, at least. I tried to kill myself but strangers from the internet saved my life. When I was about to go bankrupt, a stranger from the internet lent me money. When I was about to become homeless, a stranger from the internet offered me shelter. Lucky me.

I can't tell you to follow the same path that I did, if you're in trouble, because that would be recklessly irresponsible. I nearly died so many times. I could so easily have ended up penniless and sleeping rough.

I need to do something I hate doing: automating stuff.

It seems like a nice problem to have, to have gathered a group of people who have enough empathy and compassion to go out of their way to save another person's life, but I also know that I ended up in the situation where I was totally alone in a strange city, and I tried to kill myself. I've had enough brushes with death to know that those people we sorta-used-to-care-about can drift away and become I-wonder-what-ever-happened-to people. In fact, it's an inescapable inevitable part of persistent depression leading to suicide, that the people whose lives are at risk, will withdraw from actively staying in contact with their support network.

After a while, we get tired of tagging our friends in the Facebook comments section of things which remind us of a certain person. After a while, we get tired of sending messages that go unanswered. After a while, we get tired of 'liking' their stuff, but seemingly getting nothing back. All the attention dries up very quickly, when we go quiet and disappear into the darkness.

What I want to build is something that accumulates the longer somebody has retreated inwards, cutting themselves off from the world. What I want is to build something that focusses the attention and reminds those-who-used-to-care that there's somebody slipping away. What I want to build is something that aggregates all those people who care into a miniature ad-hoc crisis support group.

Am I explaining this well enough?

When I was in a coma on a ventilator, in a hospital intensive care ward, I had no idea that I was being discussed. I had no idea that people from all over the world had been in communication with each other, trying to find out if I was OK. Friends, old and new, learned of my predicament and they tried to find out what they could: Where was I? Was I OK? Was I alive? What happened?

However, I had a very poor prognosis. My chances of survival were 30 or 40% according to the medical team who saved my life, when I spoke to them afterwards.

It occurred to me that technology and automation could do a lot of the "heavy lifting" of figuring out who's drifting away, allowing us to respond and bring the people we care about back into safety and security, away from the dark place and the death.

Prevention is better than cure.

Suicide prevention is better done before somebody is suicidal, in my opinion, from my personal experience.

It's very hard to answer that "I wonder what happened to..." question for everybody we've ever cared about, because in the modern world we tend to travel further and move more often, in order to study, work, find love and find a place that suits us in an individualistic society, where traditional families and communities have almost ceased to exist.

The answer to the problem is to use technology to sift through the noise and find the really important pieces of information, while that information is pertinent.

It's no use finding out that somebody was horribly depressed, while at their funeral.

We have busy lives, and if I build anything, it should make our lives easier, not be another nagging, pestering and irritating thing, like spambots, chain emails and invitations to play Farmville on Facebook.

I am blessed with, what amounts to the time and the money to work on the project, as well as the people I need, insofar as I'm already well remunerated for work which I find very little effort. It will be a pleasure to work on something which I feel like the world needs, although I appreciate that sounds horribly arrogant and conceited. I apologise for the worthiness which accidentally spills from my mouth, when I speak on this topic.

Anyway, consider this a declaration of intent. My first fumbling stab at a plan. Some doodles on a napkin, so to speak.

Please write and tell me what you think of the idea.

Thanks,

Nick

 

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Training Artificial Intelligence

12 min read

This is a story about computer brains...

Screens

Let us imagine that I want to set my computer a simple task: I want it to point to the end of my nose. My computer doesn't know what a face is, what a nose is, or even that it can and should point to a certain part of my anatomy. I could write a program which tells my dumb computer exactly what to do - how to divine the position of my nose from an image, and then the relatively straightforward job of then asking the computer for the co-ordinates of the end of my nose, once the nose has been located. I could also use artificial intelligence, and more importantly machine learning.

Why does milk taste sweet?

You might not think of yourself as having a very sweet tooth, but in fact you used to have an insatiable appetite for sweet things. Your body is programmed to seek the wet, fatty, sweet goodness of milk, which provides the perfect sustenance for your growing brain and body. The reward circuitry is self-reinforcing and gives you a hit of dopamine every time you suck on the tit and get a mouthful of your mother's milk, which causes the neural pathways in your brain to become stronger, while others are pruned away. Eventually, you become hard-wired to stuff fat and sugar into your mouth, when to begin with you had only the reward part.

That's machine learning.

We need to give our machine - our computer - a reward. Let's say that for a high-resolution digital photograph of perhaps 8 megapixels, assuming that most of the photos we give the computer will have the nose tip somewhere around the middle, the worst possible guess would be somewhere near the edges. We can set up a super simple reward for our artificial intelligence, giving it a hit of computer dopamine every time it guesses a point somewhere in the middle of the photo.

Obviously this is very flawed.

Very quickly, our artificial computer brain will learn to make guesses in the middle. Even though our computer doesn't know what "middle" is, it will quickly become hard-wired to guess in the middle of the photos we show it, because that's how we set up our reward system.

The guesses are not close to the tip of the nose, but they're a lot closer than if we just let the computer guess completely at random.

We need to refine our reward system.

So, we take a library of thousands and thousands of photos of people's faces, then we record the location of the tip of the nose by manually clicking on the tip of the nose ourselves. We create a huge database full of the correct locations of nose tips, created by humans.

Then, we set up the reward system to reward guesses which are close to the correct location of the nose tip. The closer the guess, the bigger the reward.

Now, we train our computer system with the big database of photos and nose tip locations. Every time the computer guesses, it gets a reward based on how close the guess was. We can run the training millions and millions of times. We keep doing the training until the computer gets really really good at guessing the location of the nose tip.

Remember, the computer has no idea what a face is, and it has no idea what it's really doing. Nobody wrote a program instructing the computer how to do anything. The truth is, nobody really knows how exactly the computer is getting better and better at figuring out where the nose tip is. Nobody could predict how the computer brain is going to wire itself up. The computer sees all those thousands and thousands of photos, which are all very different in immeasurable ways, and somehow it begins to make associations between what it 'sees' and how it should intelligently guess the location of the nose tip.

That's a neural network.

The really interesting thing that happens next, is that we show the computer a photo of a face it hasn't seen before, and it's able to guess where the nose tip is. We use the same artificial intelligence with a brand new face which the computer hasn't been trained to locate the nose tip of, and it's still able to figure it out, because the neural network has hard-wired itself to be really good at fulfilling the rewarding task of pointing to nose tips.

There's nothing particularly amazing or hard to understand about machine learning and artificial intelligence. We're simply training our computer slaves to do simple tasks, by setting a quantifiably measurable reward system, so that the neural network can practice for long enough to get good.

The predictive text suggestions on your phone come from machine learning, which has seen vast quantities of stuff written by people, such that it's fairly easy to guess the word that's likely to follow, based on what you've just written.

So, what about training a computer to be more human and be able to have a conversation? How are we ever going to pass the Turing test and trick somebody into thinking they're talking to a real person?

We need to come up with a way to train artificial intelligence to speak just like a person.

Every time you use a text-messaging service to have a conversation, that data is harvested and analysed. Quintillions of messages are sent between people every year, and all that data can be fed into a machine learning system to train it to come up with typical responses to things people say. Google Mail makes absolutely brilliant "canned response" suggestions, which are usually totally appropriate for the context, because Google has seen quadrillions of banal emails saying little more than "thanks and kind regards". Google employees don't read your emails because they don't have to - a machine does it and it effervesces the very essence of your exchange, such that it knows whether you should reply "love you too" or "see you in the office tomorrow".

It's of no particular use - beyond the present applications - to have so much aggregated data, unless we want to have a very bland, homogenous and unsatisfying experience of life. We we slavishly obey the conclusions of vast pools of data which have been analysed, we'll end up in some sort of dystopian nightmare where are life outcomes are decided at birth, using available data, and reality will become like a piece of text composed by the predictive suggestions your phone came up with.

As an example, I'm going to generate a random number between 1 and 437, which corresponds to the page number of the novel I'm reading at the moment, then I'm going to generate another random number between 1 and 50 and use that word as the 'seed' for the predictive text feature on my fancy brand new iPhone Xs.

Let's go...

Ok... page 35 has been randomly selected.

And... word 17 has been randomly selected.

The 17th word on page 35 of my novel was "of".

OF COURSE IT WAS "of".

Chances are, it was going to be "a", "an", "of", "the", "is", "as", "to" and any one of a zillion different super common words. Let's use the word "sycamore" because it was on page 35.

Here's what my phone just generated:

"Sycamore is a good one and I have had to go back and I get the feeling of being able and then they are taught to work and they have had to do it a little while I’m not gonna was a very long and I have a very good relationship"

Clearly, machine-generated text leaves a lot to be desired.

Critically though, do we really want a single machine mind which can spit out decent text, or do we actually want personalities? Do we want a single generic face which is composed of the average set of features from all 7.6 billion people on the planet, or do we want variation?

Thus, we arrive at the conclusion that we should all be training an artificially intelligent system capable of machine learning, to be just like us, as an individual. It's no use that Google harvests all our data, because it aggregates it all together. It's no use that all the messages you've typed on apps from Apple, Facebook and Google, all the emails you've written and all the documents you've created, are absolutely fucking useless because they contain very little of your personality. Most of the messages you wrote were about food, sex, your children and your pets. Most of the emails you wrote were about the bullshit made-up numbers you type into spreadsheets all day long, which you call your "job". None of it is any use to train an artificially intelligent system to think and act like you.

I haven't figured out the reward system yet, but I'm building up a huge database of stuff I've thought. This stream-of-consciousness seems like utter madness, but I've very deliberately expressed myself in a certain manner: pouring my inner monologue out onto the page. It's ridiculous egotism and something which lots of writers have fallen foul of over the centuries, believing they're immortalising themselves with their words, but we are in an unprecedented era of exponentially growing computer power, yet most of our efforts are diverted into meaningless exchanges which expose very little of the interior of our minds.

173 years ago, Henry David Thoreau built himself a cabin in the woods, lived alone with his thoughts and wrote perhaps 2 million words in the journal he kept for 24 years. It's highly unlikely that his handwritten text will ever be digitised because of the incredible effort involved. By contrast, my 1.1 million words have been extensively search indexed by Google and other search engines, and my digital legacy is conveniently stored in 'the cloud' with perfect fidelity. While most people have been wasting the gifts of the information age by asking their partner if they need to buy bread and milk, I've been gaining what can only be described as a head start in the race to be immortalised by advances in machine learning and artificial intelligence.

How the hell did you think they were going to get the contents out of your brain and into another [artificial] one? Did you think it was going to require no effort at all on your part? Did you think that somebody was going to invent some kind of data-transfer cable?

Yes, it's horribly arrogant to think that anybody would have any interest in spinning up a digital version of me, but you remember that bullied kid at school who everybody hated and ostracised? You remember that you called that kid "nerd" and "geek" and generally abused them because they were good at maths and physics? You remember how you made it your mission in life to make their life as thoroughly miserable as possible?

They're your boss now. They're rich and you're poor.

Those geeks and nerds are suddenly on top of the pile.

You thought you were top dog when you were a kid, but now you're getting left for dust. You're being left to fester in your own filth. You're the underclass.

All of those skills you developed in bullying and abuse quickly became redundant, when all that geek stuff became highly lucrative.

Those late-gained skills of using Facebook groups to share your vile bigotry amongst your fellow thick-skulled dunderheads, has done nothing except line the pockets of the geeks. The geeks have been using the internet for decades to discuss the creation of a better world, where the knuckle-dragging primitives who thought they owned the playground, have somehow been left unaccounted for by 'accident'.

I'm not a big fan of the social exclusion and elitism which is emerging at the moment, but I'm damned if I'm going to stop keeping my technology skills up to date and investing my time and energy in my digital persona. Having put up with a lifetime's worth of bullying during my childhood, I'll be damned if I'm gonna meekly shuffle off into a quiet corner now. I'm sorry that you weren't paying attention when the world went digital and now it's super hard for you to catch up, but that's what happens when you're too busy making vulnerable people's lives a misery, to notice that you're wasting valuable time.

Every word I write is harvested by thousands of computers which comprise part of 'the cloud' and although billions of webpages are lost every single day, content is king and my 1.1 million words can be easily copied from one place to another, unlike the contents of your brain.

This might be a core dump of the contents of my mind, hurriedly written down in a state of kernel panic but it's taken a huge investment of time and effort, which unfortunately has always been required to achieve anything. Without the large databases manually created by humans, the machines would have no datasets to learn from and artificial intelligence wouldn't even be a thing.

 

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The First Cut Won't Hurt At All

7 min read

This is a story about deferred gratification...

White rose

Let's do two analyses of the last year of my life. In the first analysis, we'll be harsh and attempt to form a negative opinion of everything. In the second analysis, we'll consider things in their proper context and circumstances, and arrive at a radically different conclusion.

Everybody has to work, right? Everybody should have a job, because nobody's entitled to be a burden; a lazy layabout. It's my responsibility to earn money to pay rent, bills and buy food.

A year ago I was living rent-free, not paying bills and having my meals bought and cooked by somebody else. I was not working. I was not earning money.

Everybody should look after their health, right? It's our personal responsibility to practice self-care and to ensure that we maintain our physical and mental fitness.

About 11 months ago, I went back to work. The job required me to travel internationally and to regularly travel across the country. The job required me to return to the overcrowded capital and live out of a suitcase in less-than-ideal temporary accommodation. I worked alone.

Everybody should make sure they take breaks; holidays, right? We all need to make sure we don't over-work ourselves and burn out. We are personally responsible for managing our own stress levels.

About 8 months ago, I finished one project and immediately started another one. I left one large organisation, where I had established myself over the course of a few months, and had to repeat the rigmarole of impressing a new boss and a new set of colleagues.

Everybody needs to work hard to maintain good relationships, right? Nobody should ever abuse drink, drugs or medications. We are all personally responsible for our bad decisions and their consequences, and as such we should never argue, break-up, or use mind-altering substances.

About 5 months ago, I relapsed back into drug addiction. My physical and mental health suffered horrendously from my self-inflicted substance abuse. I broke up with my girlfriend. I nearly lost my job.

Everybody needs to pick themselves up again and cope with the unexpected, if unfortunate events befall us. We are personally responsible for being resilient in the face of adversity.

About 3 months ago, my project finished unexpectedly early and I found myself without work again. Instead of immediately trying to get another contract, I took loads of drugs and wasted a whole month doing absolutely nothing.

Everybody needs to protect their money and their hard-won gains, right? We are all personally responsible for ensuring that we only move in a forwards direction, and never slip backwards.

About a month ago, I lapsed back into drug abuse, which caused me fail to tell my colleagues I was unwell until 1:34pm, because I had no idea what time it was. I had no idea what time it was, because I'd papered over my own bedroom windows, in order to hide myself from the prying eyes that my mind would create, in a state of drug-fuelled paranoia.

Everybody needs to pay of their debts, save money and economise, right? We should be careful with our cash.

In the last month, I've written-off a top-of-the-range Apple Macbook Pro for the second time this year. I bought a brand new Macbook and iPhone XS. I drunk-booked a luxury holiday to a theme-park family hotel. I dine on my own in fine restaurants. I drink fine wine like it's water. I stay in hotels which are rated number one on TripAdvisor. I'm doing the very polar opposite of economising and saving money.

Why?

I've got daddy issues, I think.

Conventional dad wisdom would tell us that my actions are deplorable; my attitude contemptible. There are many obvious faults and flaws in my character which are apparent in my description of my crimes and misdemeanours from the past year. It's pretty obvious that I'm a massive fuck-up waste-of-space loser who deserves to be disowned, from my description of a single solitary year of my pathetic useless life. It's no wonder I don't get no respect from my daddy: my bad behaviour is plain for all to see.

I document everything with candour, so that all may judge me as I have been judged since my birth. I want you to see what my dad sees. In fact, he sees nothing, because he has sworn to never read a word I write.

I promised you a second analysis, right?

I lied.

It's up to you to arrive at your own analyses from the same set of facts.

I could have spent time defending myself and telling the story in a way that portrays myself in a favourable light, more likely to receive sympathy.

I can hear voices in my head. The voices say: "fuck off and die you navel-gazing self-absorbed self-pitying manipulative maudlin faux-tragic melodramatic tear-jerking little shit".

The voices don't come from the TV or the radio. The voices don't belong to demons and devils. The voices don't belong to manifestations of madness. Those voices are the real voices of real people. Those words are real too. I don't hallucinate - I can picture exactly where I was when those words were spoken. I don't choose to replay those unhappy moments, but those unpleasant words are so numerous that when I drive one unpleasant memory from my mind another one immediately intrudes.

I'm fortunate enough to have obtained the written verbatim transcript of my dad's interview with a social worker, just over a year ago. My dad says that I'm faking having a mental illness as an excuse for my bad behaviour. Then he says that I should be kept in hospital and chemically sedated. Then he says the best that can be hoped for me is that I should be confined to a bedsit at the opposite end of the country, heavily medicated. He says that he's protecting the family from me and that I'm forbidden from contacting my sister or visting the family home.

All of this - especially the part about being forbidden from visiting the family home or contacting my sister - was the first time I've seen or heard these views of his.

It strikes me that I'm posed with the same challenge I just set you, dear reader. I could view the evidence with conventional son wisdom, and judge the behaviour to be abhorrant. Or, I could invoke the generic and rather pathetic "parent" defence. "I'm sure it's just because he cares" goes the oft-repeated BS. "Parents are doing the best they know. They're not perfect" etc. etc.

My mind should be dull; blunted. However, instead it's sharp and slices through things. To say it's scalpel-like is the wrong analogy. Instead, it's like broken glass which is hard to pick up without causing an injury.

High on drugs, my dad always imagined himself intelligent; a philosopher.

Where did my predisposition to slice to the heart of the matter come from? Why do I dissect everything, exposing the absurdity of existence? Why am I afflicted with an agonising yearning for meaning in a godless universe with no afterlife?

How did I ever arrive at the notion that taking drugs and philosophising about the meaning of life is within the grasp of my intellect?

It's a mystery, for sure.

 

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Wishing My Life Away

8 min read

This is a story about the perception of time...

The show

Smoke machines, lasers, fountains, stage lights, people in costumes, animatronics and a powerful public address soundsystem combine to create quite a spectacle, for evening entertainment in Turkish Disneyworld. There are lots of magical, surprising and delightful moments in this theme-park, with adjoining hotel, and there's lots to do. Time has passed quite weirdly slowly though.

It struck me that I won't ever relax and enjoy myself, because I'm extremely paranoid that something's going to go wrong and my paint-by-numbers simple plan to restore my life to debt-free, health, wealth and prosperity, is going to be ruined by something unexpected.

I suppose people who have borrowed heavily against their future predicted earnings, so that they could buy a house and a car, have resigned themselves to sleepless nights worrying about losing their job and being unable to make repayments, rapidly causing their entire comfortable existence to crumble and be irreparably destroyed by reposessions, bailiffs and a bad credit score. If you go bankrupt you won't be able to rent a place to live or get a good job, because of credit checks and general employment contract exclusions, discriminating against former bankrupts.

If you imagine that there's a safety net there to catch you, you're naïve. Every property you might hope to rent is not only barred to bankrupts, but also to anybody receiving housing benefit. "NO DSS" every single advert for every single property on the market, quite clearly states. Capitalism and banking are closing ranks, creating an system that goes beyond that of a hostile environment to actively create vast numbers of homeless, unemployable, economic lepers who can't get back into civilised society no matter how hard they try.

Legislation which addresses the rehabilitation of former offenders, is quite strict about who is and isn't allowed to know a person's criminal record. The system of credit checks and your credit file is firmly in the civil sector. The use of credit data is extensively used to discriminate against people. Those who are in receipt of state welfare benefits are discriminated against, wherever that data is available to the rentier class.

We are increasingly corralled into minimum-wage zero-hours contract McJobs, with zero security and insufficient pay to afford a basic standard of living, where every letter which hits the doormat potentially delivers an economically catastrophic blow. While wealthy ignoramuses far removed from the reality of daily life for ordinary people, imagine that the social problems must be due to poor budgeting skills, they simply haven't a clue what it's like to live your entire life not having any surplus money to set aside for unexpected demands for cash. If a person who's in receipt of £73 weekly income gets a £80 parking fine, how are they supposed to pay it?

Of course, I'm clearly far-removed from the struggles of poverty... or am I?

I am lucky enough to be able to survive more than 2 missed paycheques without ending up on the street, when ⅓rd of UK people are not so fortunate. However, my so-called financial security is due to having access to a good line of credit, which is not the same as having a pot of savings for unexpected expenses. If I suffer another period without income, I slip deeper into debt and my miserable existence continues.

It might seem foolish to spend money on a new iPhone and a holiday, when I'm deep in debt, but I worked for 10 consecutive months without a nice relaxing break. The rewards for my hard work have come in the guise of a place to live and enough money to be able to travel to work, which aren't really rewards at all. The next big reward is going to be the repayment of a significant chunk of debt, which again isn't really a reward. Working relentlessly without reward is not a sustainable situation, so I've chosen to prolong my indebtedness a little bit, because I can't put my entire life on hold, eating cold baked beans and living in a cardboard box, for the sake of getting out of debt a little quicker.

There are many aspects of my attitude and behaviour which seem very vulgar. How dare I talk about poverty and financial distress, when I seemingly have a good job and spare cash? How dare I talk about money worries and the burden of debt? How dare I compare myself with people who are two missed paycheques away from ending up on the streets?

I've been on the streets. I've slept rough. I know how quickly everything can fall apart. I can tell you exactly how I'd end up back on the streets.

Yes, I can borrow to service the interest on my loans, but that only delays the inevitable temporarily. Yes, I'm seemingly quite employable, but there's no point getting a job which doesn't pay enough money to repay my debts. Yes, I seem to have access to enough cash for rent, deposit, car and other major expenses, but that cash comes from my credit facilities, not my savings.

I've been battling a toxic combination of ill-health and mountainous debt for far too long. I'm starting to feel like it's an unwinnable battle. Of course, capitalists, bankers and the rentier class don't want you to be able to escape your economic fate - they want you to be insecure, so that you'll accept a minimum wage zero-hours contract McJob and kindly donate 100% of your income in the form of rent, bills and interest on loans, to those who really don't need the money.

This week has gone really slowly.

This year has gone really slowly.

As it stands, there's a plan in place which will dig me out of the hole I've been stuck in for far too many years. It's heavily reliant on better luck than previous years. I really don't need anybody throwing a spanner in the works. I really don't need to find myself unexpectedly looking for work again, as has happened far too often in the past.

If it seems like I'm unaware of my good fortune - unable to get things in perspective - then it's due to the present discomforts. Of course, I may look back upon this time and be unable to understand what I was complaining about so much. Unpleasant memories always fade faster than pleasant ones. I'm sure I'll look back with some regret, that I didn't enjoy myself more along the way; take more pleasure in the journey.

It's hard for those who've gotten used to having money to relate to those who've gotten used to living in fear of the letters hitting the doormat, the phone ringing and the doorbell. It's hard for those who've gotten used to regular income, to relate to those whose unreliable health has meant that financial planning is hard, and regular mortgage payments have become a tyranny; fear of getting into rent arrears and facing eviction being a constant nightmare. It's hard for those who don't have mountainous debts to relate to those who know that their entire lives could be destroyed in the blink of an eye; how quickly a small debt can become a ridiculously huge sum of money once legal fees, court fees and recovery costs have been added on. Money - or lack thereof - can destroy a person like nothing else.

Yes I could have saved myself some money here and there, but the thing that's going to save me from my dire situation is not economising and budgeting... it's oodles of cold hard cash. The thing I need is for the coming months to go as planned, so I can keep working and keep earning money. You can economise and budget as much as you want, but 100% of nothing is still nothing. If you earn nothing, it doesn't matter how great you are at financial planning, you're in deep trouble.

One big variable is my health. My health could scupper my plans to work hard. Hence the holiday. Hence the rest.

It might seem wasteful to have spent 5 out of 7 days in bed, but I needed to recharge the batteries.

It might seem wasteful to have spent so much of the last year miserable, but I needed to pay off my mountainous debts.

If I could go to sleep and wake up next March, with no recollection of the intervening months, then I'd absolutely love to do that. I'd gladly give up all those many months of my life, to be able to press the fast-forward button and skip the anxiety-inducing and super-stressful, boring, monotonous and unrewarding bullshit in-between then and now.

Yes, I'm wishing my life away.

 

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Improvise. Adapt. Overcome

14 min read

This is a story about fucking up your life...

Food in the oven

I am cooking pulled pork. The recipe called for the pork to be put in an ovenproof glass dish. By chance, I bought an ovenproof glass dish two days ago. I bought it because it was perfect for chopping lines of supercrack and not losing any of the precious powder when in a messed-up state.

Sometime before dawn on Friday I was thinking about ending my life. I had bought razor blades at the same time as I bought the ovenproof glass dish. I bought the razor blades so I could chop lines of supercrack. I did not buy the razor blades so I could sever veins and the radial arteries in my arms. I did not buy the razor blades so I could sever my carotid arteries and jugular veins in my neck. However, I was motivated to do so.

I've papered over my bedroom windows to stop perverts from peeping in. I couldn't tell how light it was outside, although I knew dawn had broken. My perception of time was completely warped, but it was so quiet that I assumed that it was earlier than 9am, because otherwise I'd have heard lots of noise of people getting ready for work and school.

I checked the time. It was 1:24pm.

I was supposed to be on a video conference at 9:45am.

Fuck.

I messaged a guy in my team and told him I was so sick that I hadn't been able to contact him until then, which was technically true. What I didn't tell him was that I'd been fucked up on supercrack and I was convinced that my life was ruined and I might as well kill myself.

I was convinced that my life was so ruined that I'd never be able to fix everything.

I was convinced that I'd messed up my job and I was going to lose it.

I was convinced that I'd messed up my accommodation and I was going to be made homeless.

I was convinced that all my hopes of becoming debt free, and eventually wealthy, were destroyed.

Strangely, I'd spent most of the 18 hours up to this point thinking about how to make the software at work more efficient, as well as designing in my head a system to improve internet security which could be adopted as a new standard. You'd have thought that these things were just useless insanity, utter nonsense and gibberish.

I took a shower.

I suddenly felt a lot better.

I opened up my laptop and I rewrote 5,000 lines of code, reducing the system to just 500 lines. I ran the tests. My code did exactly the same job as the old code, except it was 1,000% more efficient. I couldn't quite believe that I'd managed to do my job, and do my job really well, when I was supposed to be sick.

It was 5 o'clock and time to stop work for the day, although I'd only worked half the day.

Then, I started developing my idea for improving internet security. I was fairly convinced that I was going to discover that I'd completely overlooked an important loophole when I actually applied formal computer science to the problem. I was certain that sooner or later, I'd spot an obvious mistake in the messed-up thinking I'd had at 3am, while high on supercrack.

At 11pm the academic paper I'd written - which specified the system protocol and addressed any security concerns - was finished. I'd checked and double-checked it. It was watertight. I listed every assumption. I attacked it from every angle. Every niggling doubt was comprehensively addressed. I knew my theory's strengths as well as its weaknesses. It was, without being too big-headed, a brilliant piece of work.

Instead of feeling like I've had a relapse and everything is ruined, so I might as well let myself descend back into the depths of hell, I feel like I learned something. All of the anticipated reward from drug taking turned out to be a big disappointment. All of the anticipated paranoia and feeling like I'm about to die and life is shit - i.e. all of the negative feelings - were present, reminding me that drug addiction is hell, and the so-called 'high' isn't worth the side effects and comedown.

My life is shit in many ways. I'm socially isolated, financially distressed and trapped in the rat race, lest I end up destitute. I'm forced to do things I don't want to do, go places I don't want to go to; my time and my freedom are owned by somebody else. I can't do what I want. My life is miserable. However, the stuff I fucked up with my relapse, such as making a mess of my bedroom, destabilising my mental health, risking my job, neglecting relationships, exhausting myself and generally playing with fire, is something which will clearly only get worse and worse if I were to continue taking drugs. I was reminded of my first novel, where I wrote about a character who took the pursuit of drug addiction to its ultimate conclusion. I was reminded of the drug-addict fantasy which inspired my first novel: to have an unlimited supply of drugs and to escape the tyranny of wage slavery, rent, bills and bullshit McJobs. I was reminded where it leads, which I already explored at length in my first novel. I explored that course of action in fiction so that I never had to reach rock bottom myself. My novel saved my life.

So, I'm currently cooking pulled pork in my apartment. The rent and bills are paid. There's money in the bank. I still have my job.

I'm cooking pulled pork in the dish which I bought to take drugs with.

I had the opportunity to order more supercrack on Friday morning, which would have been delivered today. If I had ordered more I wouldn't be writing this. Instead, I would be fucking myself up and fucking up more of the things around me. I already fucked up my MacBook Pro for the 3rd time, but thankfully it's not too badly fucked up, and the part that's fucked up is covered by warranty anyway. I have another MacBook Pro, which I'm trying to coax back into life, but it's fucked up from the last time I didn't stop my supercrack binge before things got fucked up. The sum total I've spent on MacBooks which I've fucked up on supercrack is about £6,000. I took an ice bath with my Apple Watch then dropped my iPhone in the bath, because I was trying to deal with malignant hyperthermia as a result of supercrack overdose, which cost me another £900. The total amount I've spent on supercrack in my lifetime is about £500 and most of that got flushed down the toilet. I bought 10 grams of supercrack last year for £150, which was enough to get high every day for 1 year and 10 months, although I'd obviously die before I got chance to use it all.

My priorities are the same as any ordinary person. I want a job, a home, friends, a partner, a pet. I want to earn more than my modest monthly expenditure, excluding the £10 a month I spend on supercrack, on average. If I have surplus cash I don't spend it on supercrack. I buy supercrack because all the things I need are so far out of reach. For example: I have time off work booked for 3 weeks time, but I don't have anybody to go on holiday with, and I need to plan, book and pay for a holiday, which is difficult when I'm very deep in debt.

The so-called 'choice' to relapse into addiction is not a choice at all. The only choice is the choice to kill myself. I could kill myself quickly with poison or overdose, electrocution, hanging or ligature, blood loss, falling from a great height, suffocation, asphyxiation or self-immolation. The hope that addiction holds is of hedonistic pleasure, before heart failure or respiratory arrest. Every heroin addict has a little bit of hope that they'll 'go over' and die every time they depress the plunger of the syringe. Every coke or meth addict hopes that their heart will explode at the very moment they orgasm in the ecstatic throes of drug-fuelled sex.

Every addiction is held firmly in place, not by the power of the chemicals involved, but because there are no realistic better options. What heroin addict is going to suffer the agony of withdrawal, the misery of losing the only thing in their life which brings them any pleasure, to work a minimum-wage zero-hours contract McJob and be stripped of their dignity and cursed to spend all their hard-earned cash on a dirty, mouldy, flea and bed-bug infested shithole, 2 hours bus ride away from work, leaving them so little money that they have to go begging to a food bank just to be able to eat.

Theoretically I can earn a gross income of £151,200, which is why I'm alive and in reasonably good health. I've been through years of addiction, alcoholism, mental health problems, hospitalisations for major medical emergencies, homelessness and of no fixed abode, divorce, psych wards and being sectioned, losing hundreds of thousands of pounds, losing friends, having to give my cat to my parents for safe keeping, becoming estranged from my family, moving house many times, moving around the country, sleeping rough, detox, rehab, the shame of former work colleagues finding out my secrets and gossiping about me, reputational damage, suicide attempts, having to sell my house, having to quit as CEO of my own company, the guilt of not giving my investors a good return on their investment, the unpaid debt I owe to my guardian angel, being arrested X times and locked up X times, being cautioned by the police X times, being on bail pending investigation, being interviewed by the police, being assessed by innumberable psychiatrists and prescribed myriad psychiatric medications, and ultimately having taken heaps of dangerous drugs and medications at dangerous dosages and in dangerous combinations. How many people could go through those experiences and not lose their mind entirely, finding themselves institutionalised and permanently excluded from society?

The reason why I'm alive and functional is because theoretically I can earn a gross income of £151,200. In practice it means that if I manage to work for 5 or 6 weeks a year, I'm a hell of a lot better off than 99.999% of the people who struggle with mental health problems, substance abuse problems and debt.

"Money doesn't make you happy" is a lie. Money sure as shit helps you deal with a multitude of problems.

Just like an investment bank, when shit goes wrong I double down. If a bet goes against me, I make the exactly same bet again, but I double the stake. Just like an investment bank, I'm able to borrow as much as I want so I can beat the players who aren't able to continue to play when the stakes become too high. I use my wealth to bully life into giving me what I want, instead of allowing myself to be bullied out of the poker game by the high-rollers.

The only game in life I can't win at is drugs. It doesn't matter how rich you are, if it's you against the drugs you're always going to lose. There's no winning in addiction. Not losing is the best you can hope for with addiction. To not lose in the game of addiction is a rare success, which requires extreme wealth. Even the very wealthy - like Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse - found that their idea of nirvana (sic.) was not all it was cracked (sic.) up to be. Kurt Cobain said once in a private video that he wanted to get rich so he didn't have to work and could get high on smack every day. He got so rich he could have retired and gotten high for the rest of his life, so why did he kill himself? Writing a novel allowed me to live that life - in a fictional world - to find out what would've happened to me. I wrote that book so I didn't have to experience what happened to my fictional central protagonist in real life. What happened to my fictional character could very easily have been me. I know where I was headed.

Presently, I'm very frustrated that I must spend my time creating software - or fixing other people's software - but it's churlish to complain when I'm fortunate enough to have a skill which means that even a homeless junkie alcoholic with mental health problems who's known to the police, is highly sought-after by organisations, who gladly pay relatively obscene amounts of money for the work that I can do, even when utterly fucked-up by drink and drugs. While Sports Direct employees are sacked for taking toilet breaks, I've literally gone AWOL on a week-long drug binges, been taken to hospital by the police and later been welcomed back to work, despite being a gibbering wreck on a massive comedown. This is not arrogance I promise you. I don't expect to receive special treatment. I don't expect my so-called 'misbehaviour' to be excused. I don't feel entitled to be able to treat my good fortune with such apparent contempt.

The day I start taking things for granted will be the day my world falls apart and my good fortune disappears. People's compassion, forgiveness and the benefit of the doubt will no longer be given to me if I expect to get away with taking the piss. If I anticipate escaping the consequences of my actions forever, then they'll lock me up and throw away the key.

I'm very angry and bitter about my ruined childhood, the abuse perpetrated against me by my ex-wife and being taken advantage of by a handful of greedy and immoral people, all of whol completely lack a conscience. However, I am able to remind myself that there's no value in analysing the chain of responsibility, tracing it back to those who are ultimately to blame: the horrible people of bad character who feel no guilt for the misery and suffering they cause, who feel no obligation to pay compensation for the damage they've done; feel no remorse for the pain of their victims. Even with the full force of the law behind me, those slippery vermin will always weasel out of paying the fair price for their antisocial, criminal, abusive, negligent, selfish and downright cuntish behaviour. My personal life strategy is to be so good at what I do and work so hard, that those scummy rats are left scurrying around in the slurry-filled sewers, enviously fuming about my privileged and fortunate life. When at long last they're on their deathbed, their guilty conscience will torment them and they'll be filled with regret for the misery and suffering they caused. Their dying days will be filled with fear and distress, which they deserve every single second of. Cunts.

My life is not fucked up. I did take a chance and nearly fucked up my life. I was lucky that I haven't suffered any worst-case consequences. I can't take my good fortune for granted. I am feeling grateful that things haven't ended as badly as they could have done and I am reminding myself that I was lucky not smart. I am reminding myself that there are substantial negative consequences, which far outweigh the euphoria I was seeking. Ironically, of course, I didn't even get any euphoria I was looking for. I just got paranoia, sleep deprivation, damage to my work reputation, destabilised mental health, a broken laptop and a messed up bedroom... all of which I predicted in advance.

I do have an oven-proof dish though. The pulled pork was delicious.

 

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