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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


Just Another Highly-Strung Prima Donna

10 min read

This is a story about arrogance...


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?


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 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.




Managing the Managers

4 min read

This is a story about work...


Building software is no longer about programming. Programming is something that I learned as a child. Programming is quite literally child's play to me. Modern software development involves very little programming. Modern software development is all about delivering massive projects, with massive teams, in massive organisations, and none of this has anything to do with programming. Remarkably little programming gets done by programmers.

I would be surprised if the average number of lines of code written by a programmer in a big organisation was more than a handful a day. In fact, I picked a colleague - a programmer - at random and looked at how many lines of code they've written in the past year - an average of 8 lines per day. That's not a lot of programming.

So what do programmers do all day if they're not writing code? Well, most of them are sitting around scratching their heads, wondering where the problem is in millions of lines of code that they didn't write.

Why are programmers looking at other people's code, trying to find the problems?

Good question.

There are people out there who write lots of code, but most of them are software architects and devops engineers: these are developers. Developers don't just write code though. Developers create systems. Developers know how all the different moving parts fit together to create an entire system. Developers can design, build and assemble the components of gigantic software projects, into working systems. Sure, some of it involves programming, but none of it requires writing programs. Programs are for children. Children write programs. Programming is child's play. Developing software systems is grown-up work, done by developers.

There's a general belief that a programmer is an interchangeable commodity. If you don't like one programmer, fire them and hire another one who "speaks" the same language. Of course, this is idiotic, because programmers in big organisations write 10 lines of code or fewer per day. Most of what is useful and valuable is the specific knowledge which relates to an organisation and its software systems, which only the experienced team members know. Throwing more programmers at a problem makes things worse, not better, because they don't have a clue about anything, except how to read code... millions and millions of lines of code which they didn't write. There's nothing worse than somebody else's code.

The diagram above shows how software is shipped these days. If we were back in the 1980s then the diagram would show copies of a diskette being made and physically distributed, so that people could install it onto their PCs themselves. How software goes from a programmer's computer to your computer is kinda important. How do you think it gets there? Well, there's a lot of magic behind the scenes. The diagram shows the magic trick, but it's so incomprehensibly complex that it remains as good as magic, even though I showed you how the magic trick is done. This is just one tiny part of being a developer: understanding how to actually get software onto people's laptops, tablets and smartphones.

There are a million things a developer knows. They know about the cloud. They know about databases and data. They know about servers. They know about security. They know about performance. All of these subjects are vast. There are experts in every one of those subjects, and there are myriad experts in the specifics of each field. There is an incomprehensibly mountainous amount that a developer needs to know.

So, managers, stuff your spreadsheets up your arse. You have no skills, experience or knowledge which is relevant or useful in the field of software development. You are allowed to exist because you are a shit umbrella, nothing more. You are doing your job if you stop anybody from annoying the developers and programmers, allowing them to do their jobs, and you are being insufferably irritating if you attempt to intervene in the business of software, because software is hard.

Yes, software is really really really hard. It's harder than Excel pivot table macros, or whatever the hardest thing you know is. It's waaaay harder than that, managers.

So, butt out.

Shut up.

Let us do our jobs.

Engineers left to their own devices will produce wonderful things. All the things we take for granted in the modern world are a result of engineers being left alone to get on with building cool shit. None of the wonderful things would have come into existence if the engineers were bothered by some know-noting busybody bloody managers, who tried to interfere.




Modern Art

8 min read

This is a story about creativity...


Those who are blessed with independent wealth - trust-fund kids - may groan at my unoriginal and clichéd ideas. Those who have been lucky enough to attend public or private school (confusingly similar things in the UK) have been educated to be discerning snobs who act as a kind of judicial panel, deciding collectively what is to be mocked and derided as worthless, because it has clearly originated from the lower echelons of society.

We may study a piece of text and detect traces of vocabulary, style and grammar use, which indicates the author did not have the benefit of an expensive education, and as such we decide that their words are meaningless. We presume that the author holds detestable values and baseless immature views which have not been properly forged in the crucible of a fine university's debating society. We discern a certain lack of intellect from any impression we form of a person of being from a more humble background than our own. We prefer to only read works by those who are posh and impeccably well-presented in their homogenised manner of written communication.

We can quickly tell if somebody does a lot of writing, or if their writing style is a clumsy attempt to put their spoken words down onto paper.

Who has enjoyed the privilege of being able to read a very great deal, write an enormous amount, and have somebody paid to pore over their words? English is part of the mandatory school education of every child in the UK, yet as a nation we manage to produce many millions of people who don't know the difference between homophones such as "your" and "you're", which the public and private schools would not tolerate.

While an expensive education might give every child who attends those fee-paying schools a posh accent, an extended vocabulary and better grammar, it does not assure an academic future. Many children will prefer art to the prescriptive subjects, where there are right and wrong answers.

The position of power, gifted by privilege, is to decide what the "wrong" answers are in an area where there is no such thing as a "right" answer. With no more qualification than a posh accent and some snobbery, one can embark upon a career as an art critic, quite unwittingly.

Art exists in late capitalism as another rich man's hobby, like yacht sailing, horse riding, game shooting, vintage motor car racing and skiing. While some of the hoi polloi might have adopted those leisure pursuits in imitation of the wealthiest segment of society, a number of mechanisms exist to ensure that the poor man's version is inferior in every way, and not to be mistaken for things which are reserved for the wealthiest families. As such, the act of patronage is contained within that small group of individuals who speak in the manner of their patrons.

Who can really afford to write or paint for long enough to master the craft, without making creative sacrifices in order to be commercially successful? How many brilliant artists have been forced to become draughtsmen or take dismal tasteless commissions from gauche clients? We might love our favourite comics and assume that the artists are living happy, authentic lives which are true to their beliefs, but those who have seen it as a purely artistic endeavour find unhappy outcomes if they ever need to monetise their talents.

I can afford to give away my words for free because I have another source of income, but it means that my writing will never be anything more than an open journal - a daily diary which is publicly accessible. I don't have the time and energy to plan, execute and promote a piece of serious art, and I am forced to sell the most productive years of my life in order to pay rent and bills. I like to think that I am developing my craft, but the skillset for creative writing is quite different from the stream-of-consciousness which I produce.

Innumerable photographers have captured an image of themselves every day for considerable lengths of time, and countless more writers have kept daily journals. What I do is neither imaginative nor original. It would be easy to say that my writing is not art, or it is bad art.

It angers me that I should be denied the opportunity to be an artist. It angers me that my considerable creative talents and boundless energy for artistic projects, is thwarted by economic factors. I need to pay rent and bills, so I must sell my labour, but if I were to attempt to combine my job with my desire to create art, then I would be creating products not art.

What is art?

For me, I want to turn an exceptional period of my life - addiction and near-death - into a piece of art. My experiences have been so extreme that few people who've shared similar experiences have survived with their sanity intact and enough of a grasp of the English language to express themselves clearly on a piece of paper. Many people are lost to religion and other capitulations of the mind, or simply embroiled in family life, such that the difficult task of creating a piece of art which conveys some of the suffering endured, is rarely completed.

We might assume that a particularly rousing motivational speech or an incredible painting resulted from some God-given talents, but that's complete hogwash. We are a product of the surrounding environment and things that has driven us to repeat behaviours until they are innate. Anybody who says "I can't draw" has not practiced enough. When we look more closely at child prodigies, we see that their pushy parents are the reason why that child practiced a skill enough to become talented. There are no gifts - everything must be paid for.

My own so-called "gift" is a perseverance for tapping on keys in such a way which is mandated to be harmonious. A piano will happily play incorrect chords but if you press the wrong computer keys you will simply be told "command not found" or simply "error".

While I know that my writing doesn't get tested with the rigorous logic of boolean algebra, I feel confident that I can master writing as a lucrative craft, through practice and repetition, in exactly the same way that I taught myself how to program a computer as a child. I am certain that the skill of creating hundreds of thousands of lines of programming code which assemble together to make a functioning piece of complex computer software, is transferrable to the task of writing a few tens of thousands of words which produce a coherent story.

Few would disagree that music is an artform, but music is a piece of code executed on a machine - whether it's the notation on a piece of sheet music, or the laser-etched indentations on a compact disc, the creativity of the artist is coded and played through an instrument which adheres to strict rules. A grand piano only has 88 keys, while my keyboard has more than a hundred.

It's true that we've entered an era where almost anybody can call themselves a photographer or a writer, given the ubiquity of smartphones and the ease-of-use of apps which allow us to publish our photos and our words.

I offer up the photo at the beginning of this essay and these very words because I find both aesthetically pleasing and to have deep and profound meaning, beyond what you see at face value. In my text I offer up a glimpse of my inner turmoil, but I can never fully capture the full extent of every thought that races through my mind. My photo captures a moment that has immense meaning for me, but the viewer could never possibly know or guess correctly what that meaning is, which makes it a piece of art because it could only have been created by me, the artist.

"What even is it? I could take a photograph like that" I hear you say.

Yes, you could take a similar photograph, but it would have none of the meaning behind it, so therefore it would not be art.

"What are you even rambling about? I could write down my thoughts like you" I hear you say.

Yes, you could write down your thoughts, but they'd be quite different from mine and you wouldn't have the same motivations, so therefore it would just be yet another blog post from yet another blogger.

How can I claim to be creating art? In truth, I don't. I worry a lot that I'm wasting my time and creating a lot of meaningless noise. I worry that my creative energies are squandered on a pointless folly. However, this is still an impressive monument, whichever way you look at it. How many people have managed to write and publish more than a million words in a single document, with a consistent methodical approach, with regularity and with something interesting to say? How many people have catalogued their thoughts so thoroughly?

Not many.




Some Of My Problems Are My Own Fault

5 min read

This is a story about responsibility...

Suction cup

Why does it matter that the toilet roll holder in my house is held onto the wall with a suction cup? Why does it matter that somebody cut some corners somewhere? Why does it matter that somebody did a sloppy, careless job? Why does it matter that people act without concern for the consequences? Why does it matter that some of us want to be idle?

We bring up our children on a diet of propaganda about everybody having to pay their way in society - nobody getting a free ride - when our intention all along was to propagate sufficiently to be idle in our old age. We imagined that the older children would raise the smaller ones. We imagined that the more mature and adult members of our family would feel some responsibility towards their DNA donors, as they reached the end of their lives.

I guess we hope that our children won't know any different. If they're born into a terrible world, they won't be able to imagine a better one, so they'll accept their terrible fate. Is that the logic? Somebody needs to explain it to me, because I don't understand.

My life lacks meaning and purpose.

What if I met someone so amazing and beautiful that they convinced me it was a good idea to have children, because I knew how much happiness and satisfaction - peace - it would bring me as an animal, although very much in conflict with my own human consciousness.

My body was evolved for the propagation of my genes. My body's sole purpose for existence - in evolutionary terms - is for sexual reproduction. To act in defiance of my basic instincts is physically painful, like putting my hand in a fire.

I stopped following the instructions at some point.

I've lost my way.

Loneliness and isolation should drive me to be social. Horniness and reproductive instincts should drive me to impregnate. Fear of death and extinction of my genes should drive me to seek to protect and replicate as many copies of my genes as possible. All the many millions of years of animal evolution have led to this point. Everything in my genetic programming tells me to carry on doing what every ancestor has ever done, since the dawn of life itself.


I've gone off-script.

I think that filial affection, sibling bonding, family ties, clan association and a genetic predisposition towards hostility directed at those of significantly differing DNA makeup - a wish to see those who don't share common genes perish - somehow bypassed me. The thing that's far louder in my head is the conscious voice that sprung into existence, perhaps as an evolutionary accident, but which has managed to narrate things to the point where that voice directs my behaviour far more than my bestial instincts.

I suppose I'm what you'd call anti-social. Perhaps criminal and deviant. Society has generally decided that I'm dangerous and should be shunned and marginalised.

Born into a household full of addiction and alcoholism, not feeling planned or wanted and not seeing any good role model in my parents, I found myself always somewhat the odd-one-out at school and in other social situations. I think I decided very early on that I'm unlovable. My life goals were always confused. The hedonism I saw my parents practice, with no regard for societal norms, conflicted with the nonsense they spouted in their state of intoxication, which claimed to be motivated by higher ideals: Values. I never saw any values, but I came to understand - conceptually - what values there were in the world, and why a person might hold a certain set of values.

I can simultaneously hold in my head all the various reasons - such as social cohesion - that a group of individuals might subscribe to a common set of values, whilst also knowing the payoff for breaking the rules. I knew, for example, from a very early age that getting a drink or a drug into my system must be worth any amount of societally imposed consequences, for that is what I saw throughout my upbringing.

My father talked openly about his criminal conviction for drugs, while my mother boasted about drug smuggling and encounters with the police, and both seemed proud and happy to have flouted the law and earned the disdain of wider society. They seemed to revel in their place as societal outcasts, earned because of their deviant behaviour and refusal to change their wicked ways.

Yet, it seems better if I imagine myself to have been immaculately conceived and have lived my adult life with no unconscious bias left-over from childhood. It seems as if I should be judged on the basis that my values are identical to everybody else's. It seems that every choice I've made should be viewed as having been made with complete free-will, and without the influence of my upbringing.

I fess up.

I done it.

I done a bad thing.

It's all my fault and I've got nobody to blame but myself.

There. Happy now?




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.




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.






My Misogyny

8 min read

This is a story about the battle of the sexes...


"Secretly, you'd love to know what it's like, wouldn't you? What it feels like for a girl" is a quote from Ian McEwan's 1978 book The Cement Garden which was released as a film in 1993, then sampled in a Madonna song released in 2001.


"You think that being a girl is degrading" is another quote from the same work of fiction.


Half right. Half wrong.

Why should we ever expect to be more than 50% correct on a binary matter?

I'll never know what it's like to carry a baby for 9 months and eject it from my body, but I do know what it feels like to be penetrated with a penis and have somebody ejaculate inside me. I'll never experience what it's like to live with the heavy burden of knowing that I carry the reproductive capability of bringing new life into this world - post-fertilisation - from the tiniest quantity of love snot squirted into a bodily orifice, to several pounds of blood and mucous covered incontinent midget incapable of supporting the weight of its freakishly large head, tearing its way out of the same hole the love snot went into. If you're a girl, you'll never know what it's like to be a member of the expendable sex, who account for 99% of all combat deaths, 97% of all workplace deaths and who die four whole years earlier just because of the dangly bits in-between our legs.

"It's a hard life being a beautiful girl and having horny men throwing themselves at you" I hear you say. "Passively fending off all these explicit offers from people who want to sexually satisfy me - to give me pleasure - is a real chore" you churlishly complain.

Of course, because I'm cursed with the so-called gift of empathy, I can see that shaving legs and armpits, putting on make-up, wearing high heels and a bra and other expectations of societal conformity are quite demanding on wimmin. Furthermore, I can see that while both sexes are expected to make themselves look as artificially young as possible, such as men removing their facial hair, wimmin definitely get a rough deal during the period when no amount of make-up can plaster over the obvious effects of ageing. I'm privileged to be able to wear my greying hair and slight beer-gut as a badge of honour, conveying my status as a cash machine. I'm honoured to be able to provide the cold hard capital to support a lifestyle that a woman has become accustomed to.

"I buy my own diamonds and I buy my own rings" goes a Destiny's Child song. Yes. Very good. Slow sarcastic clap. I refer you to earlier stats about 99% combat deaths and 97% workplace deaths. Call me when you dig your own ditches too.

Why are we at war like this?

In the past year fully 50% of the female computer programmers I've worked with have been transexual.

I can see the appeal.

50% of the female computer programmers I've worked with have received indisputably preferential treatment.

I'd quite like to play dressing-up games every day and have horny potential mates fawning all over me, while I passively decide who gets to pleasure me and who doesn't. That sounds like quite a nice life, doesn't it?

Would I have my testicles and Adam's apple surgically removed, my vocal chords adjusted, my breasts augmented, my hormones meddled with, and still suffer the taunts and jeers of insecure man-children, threatened by the fact that they'd really like to put their penis inside me, but they're too afraid of what other people would think? I'd fucking love it.

I've been comfortable enough with my sexuality and identity to experiment with homosexuality - or bisexuality to be more accurate - and I found many parts of the experience to be liberating and a boon for my self-confidence. I can see that the accumulated unwanted advances of horny men could become bothersome over a lifetime, but isn't that rather taking your good fortune for granted? While the so-called patriarchy is accused of not being aware of its own privilege, the same accusation could easily be levelled at wimmin.

I appreciate that the specialisation of the sexes each bring their own unique challenges. I'm well aware that the hashtag MeToo movement has hit upon a raw nerve of the unpleasant consequences of a system of mate selection which simultaneously demands men to be bold, confident, forthright, daring and to make the first moves, while also expecting telepathic mind-reading abilities in order to preserve a woman's birthright to unlimited offers of sex without ever having to make her own wants explicitly and overtly known.

Thus we arrive at the InCels' anger over Chads and Staceys.

I'm not an InCel.

I can have sex whenever I want.

I have literally hundreds of millions of wimmin who will have sex with me.

For money.

Oh yes, there's that rather unspeakable truth, isn't there? There are fucking loads of prostitutes, escorts, sugar babies and other wimmin out there who will have sex for material gains. Female chimpanzees will trade sex for tokens which can be spent on desirable products.

When we talk disparagingly about the patriarchy what I think we're really talking about is paternalism. We all hate to be patronised, but anybody can be patronising... not just men. In fact, men hate to be patronised so much that 79% of suicides are men, who often feel like they've failed and cannot face the indignity of being down on their luck. That's right - more than 3 times as many men kill themselves than wimmin.

You still wanna be a man?

You can be.

On the internet, nobody knows that you're a dog.

Computer says no.

I live in a binary world.

Computer programming is an almost almost exclusively male profession. Investment banking is an almost exclusively male profession. For most of my career I've been a computer programmer for investment banks.

Do you think we sit around plotting ways to thwart wimmin? Do you think I'm part of some big conspiracy to stop wimmin getting the super highly paid investment bank programmer jobs?

I married an investment banking computer programmer. I know they're a rare commodity.

They know they're a rare commodity.

Can't we all just admit that we're getting some kind of kicks out of our own special place in the universe?

I've spent more than 21 years in a full-time career which has essentially been spent wrangling with a cold unthinking and unwaveringly rational calculating machine, which doesn't give a fuck about your emotions. If your work is bad and wrong, it's fucking dog shit and the machine is not going to be nice about it to save your feelings.

Computer says no.

It doesn't matter how much you bat your eyelids and do a pouty Instagram sex duck-lip face at the computer, it's not going to roll over and let you get away with jack shit. There's no twisting an emotionless calculating machine around your little finger. If your work is wrong it's wrong and that's tough shit. Fix it.

This is my worldview and it's uncertainly corrupted by wealth and privilege, but I've also had the benefit of spending more than two whole decades working full-time for a boss who nobody could ever in their right mind accuse of having a gender bias. My computer quite literally does not know whether a girl or a boy wrote the code it's running, so fuck you.

If you want to hide within the shades of grey and obfuscate your obvious incompetence with your emotional intelligence, gained through your genetic predisposition towards maturing earlier than your brothers, so they didn't try to fuck you, while meanwhile twisting your daddy round your little finger because you were the apple of his eye and a spitting image of the woman he spurted his love snot into, perpetuating the whole miserable cycle of life, then be my guest. I'm afraid to say that it is you who is upholding the status quo, not the conspiracy of the so-called patriarchy. I'm sorry to say that there's a price to be paid for the considerable benefits which you enjoy, wimmin.

Am I a rape apologist? Do I condone overt sexism and sexual discrimination, where it obviously exists.





The Unwilling Suspension of All Human Needs

7 min read

This is a story about the worst of all worlds...

Canary Wharf station crowd

"I'm sorry but this bonus won't be the megabucks you were expecting from your first job in the City of London" my boss said to me. I was 22 years old and I was glad to have a secure job with an old fashioned investment bank - we'd just been through the dot com crash and 9/11. When I was a younger man I erred on the side of caution. I had decided to quit doing IT consultancy and take a permanent job when I was 21 years old, because I could see the storm clouds brewing on the horizon. I sold out.

The first couple of years of my full-time career were extremely frustrating. The speed that things got done at British Aerospace and the Ministry of Defence was painfully slow. I was already a very competent computer programmer before I started on a graduate training program as a junior programmer, so I'd already mastered the art of software development. There was very little to learn and my colleagues were intent on asserting their authority even if they were lacking any god-given talents - they were mostly insecure know-nothing fuckwits; bitter old men who spent most of their time energy trying to foil and thwart me because I was young.

I then spent a year working for a startup before I went into IT consultancy, doing software development as a contractor. Those were exciting times where I learned a lot. However, I was still bored and quite unchallenged a lot of the time.

The problem is that all software is essentially identical to a programmer. It doesn't matter if you're writing a computer game or torpedo guidance software for nuclear submarines... it's all the same damn code. In fact, the best code a programmer is ever going to write is a computer game, because games programmers have to take advantage of the power of a computer to its maximum: sound, graphics and high-performance code which provides an audiovisual entertainment spectacle - a lot harder than anything else that a computer programmer can do.

I'm a polyglot.

That is to say I code in zillions of computer programming languages.


They're all the fucking same.

All computer code compiles down to machine code ultimately, so whatever programming language you choose is just personal preference. There's no point getting hung up about which particular language you have a fetish for, because they're all the same under the hood. It all ends up as the same CPU instructions, at the end of the day.


I decided to quit the rat race. I decided that I needed to get away from the profession which I'd already mastered long before I started my first full-time job.

But the money.

So. Much. Money.

I was earning £470/day when I was 20 years old. I was working in Canary Wharf for Lloyds TSB. The money was transforming my whole identity and life prospects; my opportunities. I had won a golden ticket which admitted me to a socioeconomic group reserved for kids who went to private school and were otherwise bankrolled by their rich families. I'd smashed through the glass ceiling and broken into a world which I shouldn't have been permitted to enter.

Soon, skiing holidays and yachts. Soon, posh restaurants, taxis, fine wines and other accoutrements of the monied set, meant that I was wearing golden handcuffs. How could I give up this lifestyle?

I hated capitalism; banking.

I can't believe how much I hated both enterprise software development AND the financial services industry. I buried my head in books about economic theory and the way the global financial markets operate, and the deeper I dug the more horrified I became by the whole charade. I couldn't believe that the film It's a Good Life portrayed a bank as a benign entity -- lending out a grandmother's life savings so that a sweet little young couple with a baby could afford to buy a house -- when nothing could be further from the truth. Everything I saw was bullshit built on top of bullshit. Plus, I was bored. By then I was a senior analyst/programmer, but I hardly did any analysis or programming - we were just fat lazy capitalist bankers.

Still I carried on, because the money was so good.

I became involved with JPMorgan and the Depository Trust and Clearing Corporation (DTCC) and we processed over a quadrillion dollars worth of credit default swaps a year. 1% of a quadrillion is 10 trillion. So, if an investment bank loses a million dollars, that's only 0.0000001%, which is what we call a rounding error. The numbers boggle the mind.

I live my life by the numbers, despite the fact that it's not much of a life at all.

I earn something like 2.14 pence per second, which means that watching the pennies is a laughable idea. I'd literally lose money if I stopped to pick up a penny.

It's miserable.

It doesn't feel good.

It's inhuman.

At least I'm no longer propping up and assisting some of the main players in the great global con which is capitalism and investment banking, but I'm not very far from ground zero. I'm still pretty close to the feeding trough.

I have no idea what I'm doing, why, who it benefits, how I'd explain what I do to anybody, how I'd justify my existence on judgement day or how I'm able to look myself in the eye and feel good about myself. I don't feel good about myself. I feel like a sellout.

While others live authentic and fulfilling lives where they follow their dreams and pursue their academic fetishes or otherwise find work which is compatible with their identity and personality, I've been a mercenary for as long as I can remember. During my whole upbringing I was taught to value money ahead of everything else and to prioritise my earnings instead of my enjoyment of life, or any consideration of moral and ethical questions. My parents always put drugs and money as their number one prioriries - fuck children, friends, family and other things like that, so I suppose I've followed in their footsteps.

The net result is this unfulfilling and frankly awful life, where I have no identity or set of beliefs which define me. I just do a job for whoever is going to pay me the most, but I don't know why. All I know is that I learned to do this thing - computer programming - when I was a child and now it's both the source of an obscene income, but also seems to be at the root of all evil - banking and capitalism could not survive without data, computers, software and the polyglot mercenaries like me who help them to ride roughshod over humanity.

I keep telling myself: I only need to earn X amount and then I can quit the rat race and go and do something good; something meaningful; something rewarding. That day never comes.





Work Colleague Found My Blog

12 min read

This is a story about living a double life...

Blurry laptop

The other day a colleague told me that he'd Google'd the meaning of the semicolon tattoo behind my ear. "What does it mean?" he asked me, feigning ignorance. I told him that it's to do with programming and I had the tattoo done in Silicon Valley, which is perfectly true. Of course, I'm only able to survive because I'm economical with the truth. There isn't a section on my CV which lists all the hospitals I've been admitted to in recent years. There isn't a section on my CV which lists episodes of mental illness. If nobody asks me why should I tell anybody?

There's a wide long corridor at the office which has its walls covered with posters encouraging us to speak up about mental health issues. "It's OK to talk" the posters claim. What the posters don't say is that it's OK to talk as long as you've got the mild kind of mental illness which elicits sympathy, not terror. Being a bit blue sometimes and taking the occasional duvet day is not a big problem, but fully-blown episodes of mania, replete with paranoia and delusions is going to see you quickly ejected from the office before you have a chance to say "but you said it was OK to talk".

It's OK to talk about the more palatable side of mental illness - mild anxiety and depression - but the kind which is so debilitating that it renders a person completely unable to work, is met with a hostile response. To begin with there is some sympathy and interest. However, it doesn't take long for people to become compassion fatigued. "I'd like a day off when I don't feel like working" is what people soon start saying, as levels of resentment grow. Offices are fit in or fuck off kind of places, where behaviour is only tolerated within a very narrow band of deviation from the norm. Even an annoying laugh or a cough can be grating in the office and people can get extremely angry and upset about things which appear to be tiny and insignificant. Pay rises, promotions, job titles, special privileges, holidays and perceived differences in workload and effort, all feed into a bubbling cauldron of toxic feelings which remain festering and unvented, brewing and fortifying over the very many years through which people are chained to their desks.

I can never fully disguise the fact I'm not well and I've been through some difficult times. It was a bold move to choose to mark my skin in a visible area with a tattoo which is widely known for its meaning as a symbol of mental health problems, suicide, self harm, alcoholism and substance abuse. In the 3 years since I had that tattoo, only one colleague had ever commented, and that was to tell me that I could talk to him any time. Little over a month later he completely blanked me and refused to answer phone calls, texts, emails or other attempts to contact him - he'd told a colleague about my blog and they decided to screw me over; to rip me off and breach contract, owing me a lot of money.

Another colleague at a different organisation found my blog. One day he asked me if I wear contact lenses, to which I replied that I don't. He then asked me about wearing glasses, which was quite telling because I never wear glasses at work. He seems like a good guy - so far as I know my secret is safe with him.

At the place where I currently work, the thing I always dreaded has happened: I've been directly confronted about the meaning of my tattoo. It's something I'd always anticipated so I had my pre-prepared answer about the semicolon being an important symbol to a programmer - having been writing C, C++ and Java for 24 years - and the extra significance of having my tattoo done in the Mission/Castro area of San Francisco.

I kinda revel a little bit in my newfound bad boy image. Having had a 21+ year career as an IT professional working for large organisations, there's not a lot of room for bad behaviour before you screw up your employment prospects. One single black mark, such as a bankruptcy or a criminal record, and you'll never work for big companies ever again. If the gatekeepers had their way and they were allowed to invade my privacy to their heart's content, they'd have slammed the door in my face a long time ago. My problems are not the nice mild kind where I'd be permitted to do a bit of light-hearted whinging in the office. My problems are not the kind which are permitted in the stale, dry, plain, boring and uninteresting beige thoroughly dull world which I inhabit from Monday to Friday, 9 to 5.

It makes me nervous occasionally that my cover could be blown and somebody could see through my infallible disguise. It makes me kinda nervous that I have this huge repository of all the juicy details which Human Resources would dearly love to get their hands on so that they have the ammunition to discriminate, stigmatise, and otherwise abuse my right to live my life free from prejudice and ostracism.

The longer I manage to keep delivering successful projects, high quality work and impressing my colleagues, the safer I become from any witch-hunt if my blog is discovered, along with the very many unpalatable truths for a group of people who's sole mission in life seems to be to keep the riff-raff at bay. Anybody who doesn't walk, talk, look and smell just like them is not welcome - your face has to fit if you want to earn big bucks and have a comfortable and rewarding career. There aren't a lot of facial piercings, wild haircuts or indeed any expressions of individuality in the organisations where I work, because they work very hard to block anybody who doesn't fit the mould at the door.

My mask slips occasionally, of course. I struggle with the fixed and inflexible office hours which are homogenised for the neurotypical early birds. I struggle with the uniform and consistent plodding pace. I struggle with all the one-size-fits-all unwritten rules, which are perfectly OK for the conformists to conform to, but sometimes cause me a great deal of suffering.

I try not to be too outspoken. I try not to get passionate about anything. I give away as little possible about my personal life. I certainly don't ever relax and be myself - I'm always tense and on high alert. I try to just focus on making a good job of relatively small and non-contentious pieces of work, and busying myself with pointless tasks to occupy my time. I work very hard to act as if I'm a normal beige boring ordinary complaint non-contentious non-complaining typical office working drone. In essence, I spend most of my 8 hours a day attempting to keep my mouth shut and reining in all of my natural instincts. I spend most of my working day battling with my impulse to either walk out and never come back, or to start tearing things to pieces and doing bold and brave things. I have to bite my lip and hold my tongue. I'm not used to being like that, but it's the only way I'm able to stay off the radar and keep my job.

The last place I worked, a colleague took enough of an interest in me to Google me, find my website and read my blog. At the last place I had a wobbly period and I had to take quite a bit of time off work. I was acutely aware that I was incredibly exposed, because the reasons why I was struggling and sick were laid bare for anybody to see. Thankfully, I was given the benefit of the doubt and I was able to leave that organisation and that project with a feather in my cap - good job well done.

This time, I get the feeling that this new colleague who's taken an interest is not doing so for benign reasons. I definitely have the impression that he's threatened and is looking for some weakness to exploit, to undermine me. I definitely don't feel good about him pressing me to answer him about the meaning of my tattoo, especially when he made it very clear that he'd already Google'd the meaning.

In a lot of ways, this is like a test. I'm putting all my baggage and issues on public display to see what kind of people there are in the world. Nasty people will gleefully take the ammunition and use it against me. Nice people will see how vulnerable I am, and will use the information wisely and in a caring manner. Sure, I can get hurt and that might be a reason to protect myself more, but if people are determined enough to find a chink in your armour, they're going to go out of their way to try to hurt you, even if they have to invent bad stuff on the basis of pure conjecture and their nasty little minds.

Honesty is such a good policy to weed out bad nasty people. Honesty works so incredibly well at differentiating between friend and foe. It's possible to see in someone's eyes whether they're giddy and drunk with the possibility of misusing the truth and honesty to screw you over, or indeed whether the honesty and vulnerability is instilling a reaction of kindness and compassion - you can really see it in the eyes, whether a person is an evil fuck or they're nice.

I also enjoy being in the position where I've laid everything bare for anybody to see, such that nobody can shame, embarrass or otherwise use things against me, which most people would keep as closely guarded secrets. I've already published the gory details my deepest darkest thoughts, feelings and experiences, so none of it has any power over me - it's in the public domain. It's laughable to think that you'd be able to bully or tease me about something which I own and have told the world about, such that any nasty person would be simply stating the obvious in a patently ridiculous way, like attempting to laugh at a proud openly gay person for being gay. It's nonsensical.

More and more, I feel proud that I've done the brave thing of publishing everything which I'd previously kept secret, and making it so public. I feel proud of both my identities, even if I haven't been able to unify them yet. Of course, my identities are implicitly unified, because it's my face and it's my name. It's only sheer laziness which means the gatekeepers have not yet unearthed this treasure trove; and of course the fact that they'd never expect in a million years that anybody would be so foolish as to simply hand over all the truths which most of us keep as closely guarded secrets.

Our privacy is increasingly infringed and we are spied upon around the clock by the ubiquitous digital devices that surround us. Our government spies on ordinary law-abiding citizens and even shares that information with prospective employers, such that trade union activists can become black-balled and unemployable, despite never breaking a single law. Our love of free email, free social media, free photo sharing and other 'free' services, is also our undoing - we're easy to snoop on and you can be completely certain that your digital identity has been examined by a gatekeeper, intent on digging up some dirt on you.

Overall, I believe I've had 3 or 4 work colleagues maliciously abuse my trust by using my candid honesty against me, and I've had 1 who seems benign. Not great numbers, but I believe that overall the net result has been to get rid of toxic people and avoid exploitation, and hopefully I'm getting better quality closer friendships.

As a mechanism to stay in touch and keep friends updated, I would say that this blog has been a rip-roaring success. I can't see any other way that I'd have been able to maintain a toe-hold in normal life if I hadn't decided to 'go public'. It's unconventional and it certainly jeopardises my employability, but anybody who's read my blog looking for the bad stuff is obviously a bad person, so good riddance.

In the place where I live I've fallen out with 3 people, but I've made at least 5 friends, and there's honesty underpinning all of it. If you don't like the version of me you see on the pages of this blog, what the hell are you doing? What do you expect? I'm not a fictitious character: this is me.

There have been some regrettable moments which I've documented in my usual stream-of-consciousness way, and those periods have shown me in a very unflattering light. There's a lot written here that's not what people ordinarily share. I've made myself very exposed; vulnerable. That's the point. It's all here, warts and all.

I was supposed to be seeing my former work colleague who's been reading my blog this evening. Perhaps we will become closer friends now that we don't work together. Things have worked out OK.





10 min read

This is a story about nth chances...


Is the UK so short of people with the technical skills and experience that I possess, that I would suffer no career setbacks even if I literally curled out a turd on the table in front of the entire board of directors, having waltzed into the boardroom, leapt onto the boardroom table, lowered my trousers and squatted?

I've been doing more-or-less the same job for 21+ years, and every single enterprise CRUD app for a large organisation is exactly the same as the rest. Yes, I switched from one programming language to another. Yes, I switched from one kind of way of managing a project to another. Yes, I learned a load of technologies that do a lot of 'magic' for me, so my job is 95% plugging things together, and only 5% 'programming'. It's not even programming any more... that 5% is just renaming stuff that you've copied and pasted, so it's not so obvious that you copy-pasted it, and then sorting out a bit of rewiring and configuration.

The last couple of projects I worked on, I got so bored and I had so much spare time, that I was able to do things properly for once - I did things which are hard, so most people don't bother; I was thorough. I didn't cut any corners. When I found the inevitable complex technical problems which defeat most people, I didn't kludge round those problems... I spent those days and whole weeks, tearing my hair out with frustration, to arrive at a "textbook" solution. I should write a frigging book: "How to write nice elegant software in a horrible corporate environment where nothing works like it's supposed to". I guess the title could be a bit shorter.

The main project I worked on last year involved a lot of conversations like this:

  • CEO: I want the app to look like this
  • Me: I'll make an app that has the essential features, but it'll be ugly, then I'll work on the other 70% of stuff that needs doing
  • CEO: Yes, but the app needs to look and work exactly like this
  • Me: Ideally, in a year or so, it could do yes, but right now you've only got me, so if you want to launch something in a couple of months, I need to do lots of other things as well as make a pretty app
  • CEO: OK, but it'll look like this, right? The design is 100% complete
  • Me: It won't look like that because the design includes things that are impossible
  • CEO: OK, but it'll look almost like this?
  • Me: I think you're getting too hung up on the app. There's lots of other stuff to do too.
  • CEO: But it's important that the app looks like the designs we've produced
  • Me: I think you should hire somebody else who can tweak what I produce to make it look the way you want it to look, and I'll get on and finish all the other essential bits
  • CEO: We already had 6 different freelancers from 6 different countries produce 6 different apps, and each one looks nothing like the design I want. Can you re-use any of their code?
  • Me: No
  • CEO: OK, well, I'm sure you'll have it all done in 2 months

So, I worked on the thing that I usually wouldn't bother doing, because it's not my core skill, which was to faithfully reproduce the design that the CEO wanted. I spent a lot of time making a really really pretty app. I learned a lot. I stopped being so afraid of UI/UX work. I started to feel quite confident building attractive and complex user interfaces; pretty apps.

Then, onto my bread-and-butter: take a load of data, convert it and store it somewhere, create some means of retrieving it, and create some means of users interacting with it, plus gathering loads of data and analytics on who they are and what they're up to.

Only, almost all my time had been wasted making a stupid pretty app, and when I came to look at the source data which has supposedly been analysed, it turned out that the analysis was total BS. Half the data which the pretty app was going to display to the users quite simply didn't exist - it was fiction; fantasy. "We'll scrape that data together ourselves" said the CEO. The price of a pint in 120 towns and cities. The average rent in 120 towns and cities. The total number of students in 120 towns and cities. The number of nightclubs in 120 towns and cities. Lunatic.

So, I've had occasion to become somewhat obstreperous. Rather than just plod along and ignore the lunacy, and waste my time on wild goose chases and impossible tasks, I've gotten stroppy; I've let my frustration be known loudly and clearly. I stop doing what I'm asked to do - because it's lunacy - and start working towards a finished product.

I wonder how many times I've left a project, and the CEO or whoever has been thinking "thank God we got rid of that guy who gave us a complete working application, and who told us in precise and concise detail all the problems that we were going to face if we continued on our chosen path, which we've repeatedly refused to deviate from". It's actually interesting to see the pretty app that I developed, live in the App Store, exactly how I left it - none of the impossible lunatic things are there, unsurprisingly

Given that each of the 6 previous freelancers had looked at the previous developer's code and thought "nah, this is rubbish, I'm going to throw it away and start again" but whoever it was who took over the complete and working system that I left behind, decided that it was actually exactly what they wanted and needed, so they released it to the App Store.

On another note, I keep getting sick. I work very hard, I try very hard, and I immerse myself it what I'm doing - I live and breathe the projects I get involved in; I care. It's the caring part that's the problem. When you care too much, you get upset and then you start to get frustrated, which is exhausting and it makes me sick. I literally get sick: I get too unwell to work.

I bust my balls, then I get sick. When I get sick, all kinds of bad stuff happens. I might end up in hospital. I might end up in trouble with the police. I might end up falling out with friends. I might end up running out of money. I might end up homeless... who knows? It's anybody's guess how bad things are going to get when I get sick. I've attempted suicide 3 times already.

So far though, nobody seems to have gone out of their way to do life-changing damage to me: to black-ball me from ever being able to work again, to punish me, to give me black marks against my name that would exclude me from civilised society. Nobody seems that keen to see me dumped on the enormous pile of humans who we've decided serve no useful purpose. Nobody seems that keen to prevent me from ever having another chance.

The last couple of projects, I didn't get obstreperous and I didn't get so sick that everything got badly messed up. The last couple of projects, I gave the client exactly what they asked for, more or less... I just ignored the lunacy, and built useful high-quality working software and ignored all the questions like "where's that [impossible/useless] feature I asked for?" and sure enough, they forgot all about it in the end, and they were happy.

In my personal life, I don't know why my misbehaviour when unwell hasn't landed me in more trouble than it has, and ejected me from civilised society and consigned me to a life that a great many of our "unwanted" and "unwelcome" members of society suffer, because they've caused trouble and they're now permanently branded as "trash". It must seem very unjust to those who have been branded as "human trash" to know that the rules and regulations of life are supposed to be applied fairly and evenly, but evidently they are not. Maybe it's because I can pretend to do a posh accent. Maybe it's because I try to remember to say please and thank you lots. Maybe it's just because I've been lucky up to now, but luck won't last forever.

I know people have found my blog and they know that my visible tattoo advertises that I've got problems, but nobody ever says anything, except for the occasional "do you wear contact lenses?" or other hint that they've seen my bespectacled profile picture: my alter ego.

My plan is to try and get myself onto page one of Google (I'm on page 2 at the moment I think) but the truth is, I don't think people - the decision makers - actually care that much, when they find somebody with the skills that are apparently in such short supply that a person like me can limp along and suffer the horrible manic highs and depressed lows in full view of my office colleagues, when economic circumstances force me back into that environment.

Ideally, I'd like to send out my CV and have my email address as and list my website, as well as including details about exactly what's happened in my life since I got sick. I'll just write a summary of my life and career to date - good and bad - rather than the corporate friendly horses**t nonsense that conforms to the expected standard.

At the moment, do I require mercy? Yes, a little. I'm in a precarious situation. There are a few people who could choose to bring the full force of the blows raining down on my head, but they've been merciful, so far.

At the moment, do I require an nth chance? Yes of course. I always feel like I'm on the back foot; I always feel like an imposter or a fraudster, even when I've just finished a big project and the client's really happy. I always feel like my not-so-secret website and the stuff that's happened in the recent past - which would usually be confidential - somehow disqualifies me from doing the job that 21+ years of evidence shows I'm very capable of doing to a high standard.

For the first 11 years of my career, I had an unspoken agreement with my bosses: they'd let me have days off sick or come in late when I was depressed, because they knew I'd be so productive when I was manic. It was a system that worked well. The trouble is, with short projects, it's so much harder to establish the trust in that relationship and accept that a member of your team is not a regular 9 to 5 Monday to Friday mediocre plodding drone who doesn't give a f**k.

It would be arrogant and unreasonable of me to expect special treatment in the workplace, or indeed in society in general. I don't know why I keep getting more chances. Do you think it's fair?