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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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nick@manicgrant.com

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Humble Opinion

4 min read

This is a story about keyboard warriors...

Desk

You might be surprised to learn that I feel shame and regret for over-eagerly volunteering an opinion in the company of those who are more qualified, experienced and wise, who must surely have looked upon the ignorant tosh which I spouted as beneath contempt; the unintelligible gibbering of a moron.

My career has been exceedingly technical: I don't deal with the grey areas in life. My work is either right, or it's wrong. What I produce is either correct, or it's garbage. There's no "blagging" in my area of expertise: you either know what you're talking about or you don't.

Of course, most areas of life are not as black and white as my chosen career is. Most people do not work in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) and as such, they are not used to having to be correct; they have no use for right answers, because they can get away with wishy-washy rubbish, which isn't provably garbage; they can blag their way through life.

One of my favourite TV shows is called Scrapheap Challenge which is known as Junkyard Wars in the United States. On the show, contestants must build massive metal contraptions from old vehicles, rusting in a pile. It's a geeky show for geeky people. I can't speak on behalf of mechanical engineers, but I do know a former contestent, and one assumes that those who are engaged with building and fixing things for a living, would find it fun and interesting. I mention this show because sometimes there's a software engineer contestant, and I have observed - anecdotally - that they are pretty useless. The main skill required for being a good contestant, is being a good welder. I do very little welding, as part of my job as a software engineer.

Knowing one's limit is important. It's difficult though, not to extrapolate from expertise and mastery in one specialist area, and assume that success will be forthcoming in any other area. After a long while of continuously learning new technical skills, it's hard not to get carried away and assume that anything can be quickly learned and mastered. For sure, working in tech teaches us to continually learn new things; things which are hard and technical and can't be blagged.

Obviously I don't "know my limit" or indeed "know my place". I have opinions on almost everything, but I must say that those opinions are not the usual ill-informed ignorant gut-feel of the morons who plague the comments section on the internet. In order to have an opinion, I have to have at least read the Wikipedia page, or suchlike. Also, I have to be interested in the subject in question, sufficiently to have done some cursory reading on the subject. I like to think - arrogantly - that my opinions are grounded in reason and logic, given that my whole working life and a lot of my childhood has also been grounded in formal logic; I'm literally paid to think logically. My whole career has been quantitative and as such, my opinions are qualified with hard numbers, most of the time.

A lot of what I do could be considered quite a dark art, I suppose. I'd be lying if I didn't use gut feel and intuition to make decisions, during my working day, but I can guarantee that my decisions are backed by experience, and that experience could be expressed as statistics which bolster my claim that my decisions are data-driven. Sometimes I'm challenged to provide the firm numbers which allowed me to reach an opinion, and I can do that: I can prove why my opinions 'add up' to reach the answers I give.

There is an overlap between the black-and-white world of data science and technology, and the fuzzy world of human emotion. If I say that something can't be done, on a project, I'm often challenged to prove that 9 women can't have 1 baby in one month, for example. Sometimes, whatever being asked could be done, technically, but it would be bloody awful for all involved; sheer misery. For sure, at some point, the limitations of our biology - and even psychology - have to be considered.

I have opinions and I will not stop sharing them.

 

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Always On

4 min read

This is a story about following the sun...

Kitten and pen

I've worked for plenty of global organisations. I've worked on plenty of projects which have spanned time zones. I've worked with teams of people, collaborating from the four corners of the planet. I have plenty of experience working at places where the hours are long. However, I always used to be quite strict about work/life balance. I used to be appalled by the idea of an organisation infringing into my personal time. Not anymore.

That I might be expected to be on-call was something which overstepped the mark: back when I used to be a poorly paid junior, climbing up the rungs of the corporate ladder, the idea that I would give any more time to a company which was already exploiting me, was outrageous; I rejected it aggressively. The idea that I would pick and choose when to take my holidays, depending upon the demands of the project(s) I was working on, was something I rejected, in the strongest possible terms.

What changed?

Well, for sure, if you pay me enough then you will get my undivided attention. If you pay enough, you can buy most of me. If you pay enough, I will be dedicated.

Also, there aren't that many projects which are interesting, challenging, and frankly worthy of my time. I'm not going to give up my evenings, weekends and preferred holiday dates, for the sake of some meaningless busywork; no way.

So, what happened?

Well, obviously, the magic double: decent pay and a decent project.

The problem is, that I always assume that with enough hard work, I can conquer any [tech] problem. This is mostly true, but most of my problems are not tech. The tech is fine. It's the people and the politics which are the problem. I don't understand why anybody would hire highly paid experts, and then ignore their advice. I mean, if you want to screw something up and create a complete disaster that wastes loads of money, you sure don't need or want my help to do that. The problem is, that I will try to make things successful which is a direct conflict of interest with the fuckwits who want everything to fail disastrously. Sure, the fuckwits 'pay my wages' effectively, so you'd think that they could pay me to fuck things up, but that's not really how I work. I'm not in the business of fucking up projects, I'm afraid, no matter how much you pay me.

I'm burning myself out, trying to make a big project successful, despite the very best efforts of a whole raft of fuckwits who are determined to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. I've been extraordinarily quick, in order to try to sneak through some success while they weren't looking, but unfortunately they noticed that things were going to succeed, and have swung into action, destroying everything in sight. Of course, I find it very hard not to try to fend off that kind of vandalism; that kind of sabotage. I find it very hard to break the habit of a lifetime: making large software projects succeed, in spite of the army of fuckwits.

Things were going alright. Everything was under control. I mean, it hasn't been easy, but it hasn't been very hard either. I've worked very hard for a sustained period of time, but the hard work was paying off: the project was running on time; everything was going smoothly. Of course the fuckwits were going to swing into action. Of course they would try their very best to sabotage, vandalise and otherwise destroy any chance that the project would succeed. My mistake was to assume that we were working together to achieve a successful outcome; that they would be pleased that things were going to succeed, not fail.

I find it very hard to switch off. I find it impossible to concentrate, when I'm supposed to be enjoying some rest & relaxation. I can't sleep. My life revolves around one thing, and one thing only: trying to make the gigantic project a success, in spite of the enormous efforts to ruin it.

I'm a bit of a workaholic bore, sorry.

 

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Electronicat

5 min read

This is a story about technical stuff...

Electronics

Of all the hobbies I thought about getting into, most of them were sedentary; indoors. I thought about getting some kind of retro games console. I thought about getting a new games console. I thought about getting a gaming PC. Then, I thought about maybe doing something really geeky. I started looking into software-defined radio, with the intention of making a home-made radar, perhaps, or doing my own mobile phone base station. All of this, I decided, was expensive and wouldn't help me with my need to get outside and exercise.

I did some of the projects on the cheap. I managed to turn my 5 year old laptop into a pretty decent retro console, with nothing more than a cheap game controller pad. I got a whole buttload of electronics experiments I could do with a super cheap tiny little computer (pictured). I managed to make a home-made sonar. Not quite radar, but not too bad for a bodger.

Still, I found myself spending most of my time looking at a screen, indoors.

Also, although the projects have provided some intellectual challenge, they haven't really opened up any social avenues. I'm sure that if I got really involved in - for example - the software defined radio community, online, then I would kinda get 'social' contact out of that, but I already get more than enough online social contact. The thing I'm missing is real world social contact.

I know from past experience that when I've done something ridiculous, like suddenly deciding to get into kitesurfing, it's taken my life in a brilliant direction. I've travelled the world, in search of the best wind and waves, and made lifelong friends along the way.

My life is very nice - enviable - in a lot of ways. My beautiful cat keeps me company, and she likes company too; always wants to be nearby, getting involved with everything I'm doing, which is not always ideal when working on a microelectronics project, for example. For sure, I have options and opportunities which a lot of people can only dream of.

However.

I am also more socially isolated than you can possibly imagine. Estranged from my family, far from friends, without a support network. The litmus test is this: if you're hospitalised for a major medical emergency, who's there for you? I can answer that question. I can answer that question very well, and the answer is not good, although mercifully I did have a work colleague and a friend who happened to be visiting from abroad, who were kind enough to visit me, hooked up to a dialysis machine for 4 hours a day; a hospital stay of more than 2 weeks; a medical emergency that pretty much nearly killed me.

That's not a dig at my friends, of course. They've become used to leaving me sleeping rough or otherwise homeless. They've become used to leaving me in hospital, dying, alone. That's fine. I've come to terms with that.

I do have some VERY good friends. I am lucky enough to have one or two friends who would help me, if I asked. The rest... I'm not sure if I can even call them friends... more just people who I used to know, but now they're just strangers who I happen to see updates from on Facebook. They might as well be celebrities who I read about in tabloid newspapers or gossip magazines.

This wasn't supposed to be a dig at my acquaintances [former friends]. This is about what I'm doing to sort my life out, to make it bearable.

Possibly, by getting back into mountain biking, I have opened up the possibility of making some friends and building a support network; having a social life. We'll have to see. "Social life" might just be something which I'll never regain; I'm too old to be able to [re]build one now, having lost my old one. Anyway, I remain optimistic.

For the first time in forever, I felt motivated to start to plan for the future, in a way that's not just planning for my suicide. I've been planning what to do when my backside isn't so sore, and I can ride my new mountain bike again - where am I going to go?

Suddenly, winter doesn't look quite so bleak. I have good winter clothes and a reason to be outdoors, in the wind, the rain, and the mud. Not many people have the strange twisted kind of brain that I do, where I love extreme weather: keeps the fair-weather tourists away. On the bike ride I went on, on Saturday, there was not a single other soul on the mountain. I'd hardly describe it as "perfect conditions" but in the forests around the summit of the mountain, I hardly noticed the rain; I was going to get covered in mud anyway. It was delightful; ecstatic; euphoric... to be hammering down deserted mountain tracks, without having to worry about crashing into anybody. A far cry from the queues to get into shops, which seems to be something that the ordinary folks are spending their time doing.

Of course, everything's more fun when there's a social aspect, so I'm hoping to find some people to go mountain biking with, but people are already contacting me (which is unheard of) to arrange some biking trips, which is a good sign; a sign that I might get the healthy habits which I need in my life, along with a truckload of fun and adventure.

 

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Superiority Complex

5 min read

This is a story about delusions of grandeur...

Thought bubble

The problem with slinging pseudoscientific mud, is that sooner or later you're going to come up against somebody who knows what they're talking about; they're able to rigorously follow the scientific method, and they can see right through the dumbed-down pathetic attempts to create popular ideas, which prey upon our preconceived notions, our biases, our vanity and our insecurities.

If we look at applications for university places, there are vast numbers who want to study arts and humanities subjects. Then, the social 'sciences' are the next most popular. Bottom of the pile, in terms of popularity, are the difficult, dry, technical subjects: mathematics, engineering, chemistry, physics, computing. You cannot 'blag' that you know what you're talking about in a technical subject: there are right answers and wrong answers, and no amount of blagging will convince anybody that you're right, when you're wrong, and you're provably wrong.

The social 'sciences' - anthropology, sociology, psychology etc - are not sciences. Science follows a strict prescriptive methodology, and anything which doesn't adhere is not science. The social 'sciences' produce nothing but worthless crap, because it's not science - the results of experiments cannot be reproduced. Any experiment which doesn't have reproducible results, is a non-experiment; a waste of time; absolutely useless.

In an attempt to appear like real medical science, psychiatry has attempted to apply statistical methods, to make the diagnosis of pathologies of the mind, into a supposedly objective exercise. In theory, the patient's symptoms are all that are needed in order to make an accurate diagnosis, via the power of statistics - so, in theory, there's no need for psychiatrists any more. We should, in theory, be able to diagnose ourselves and then simply obtain the required medication from a pharmacist: no doctors required.

No. No. No. The psychiatrists say.

You need us to interpret these hard statistics, and add our own opinions. Say the psychiatrists.

So, what happened to this being a scientific process, driven by data and statistics?

The truth is that everyone will use their knowledge and position of authority in order to pursue their power games. Psychiatrists will never use a scientific statistical method, because then they become redundant.

Unfortunately, psychologists have latched onto psychiatry's attempt to become more scientific, and lend some credibility to their profession. Psychologists are probably more obsessed with statistical methods for 'diagnosis' than psychiatrists are. Psychologists, who, let us remember, were not clever enough to become doctors, engineers, mathematicians etc, opted for a profession where there are no right or wrong answers; anything you say is equally dumb and meaningless. Of course, psychologists would want to pretend like there was any kind of rigour, any kind of methodology, data or statistics, behind their work.

There isn't.

The problem with psychologists latching onto the work of psychiatry, is that they try to import theories and apply them. Psychologists - especially amateur wannabe psychologists of the armchair variety - love to throw around labels like "psychopath", "sociopath", "narcissist" etc. when in fact, those labels were only intended to ever apply to the tiniest fraction of humanity. How can it be meaningful to call every man you've ever met a "pathological narcissist"? How have rare medical conditions gone beyond that of an epidemic, to now become things which affect the vast majority of humanity?

It hasn't happened.

Only a tiny fraction of the human race suffer from pathologies such as narcissism and sociopathy.

You can't just label people you don't like with psychiatric pathologies.

It's dumb.

Amateur psychologists are dumb.

Psychiatric language is ubiquitous in our culture. We use terms like "crazy", "mad", "loony", "loopy", "wacky" and every other flavour of term for 'insanity' to mean everything on the spectrum, from upset and angry, to schizophrenic psychosis. We call ourselves "OCD" when we just mean neat, tidy and clean. We call ourselves "bipolar" when we just mean moody. Meanwhile, depression and anxiety are so common, and so many of us are medicated, that we hardly even bother to talk about the fact we've been diagnosed with those illnesses anymore - we make memes about killing ourselves; we make memes about how dysfunctional we are.

To talk about a 'superiority complex' in the present day, is like giving out speeding tickets to the competitors at the Silverstone Formula One grand prix race. To talk about 'narcissism' is something that you really should do on your YouTube channel, or on your Instagram Story, or on your Facebook page, or one of your TikTok videos. Utterly nonsensical. Unhinged. Mad.

Yes, there are people who are so affected by the Dunning-Kruger effect that they are unable to comprehend the limitations of their abilities: they will never be a mathematician, engineer, chemist, physicist, software engineer or suchlike; they're not clever enough. Those over-confident people's ignorance is not as good as my knowledge. We are, unfortunately, living in an age where vast numbers of people think that their 'life experiences' and 'gut feel' qualifies them to opine on subjects, which they are utterly, dismally ignorant about, exposing their appalling stupidity, much to the chagrin of anybody with half a brain.

So, anyway, I'm sick of pop-psych 'magazines' (especially online) publishing articles about narcissists with superiority complexes. They don't exist... you're just pedalling word-salad, put into the mouths of your readers. Your readers will use that word-salad to attack people they don't like.

 

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Maybe I'm the Muppet

5 min read

This is a story about software development...

Cog

Maybe I'm the problem, but wherever I go, the projects I work on are delivered on time (or early!) on budget, and they work. Everywhere else in the IT industry, projects are late, overbudget, and they are a disaster zone: security problems, performance problems and full of bugs. Maybe I'm the muppet though, for reasons I'm about to explain.

My approach to large complex software projects, is to decompose the problem into smaller easier to handle pieces. If the problem can't be decomposed into small chunks, it's probably not going to succeed. As a non-muppet who I admire once said, you wouldn't build a heart pacemaker or some other piece of technology which was a matter of life-and-death, with a design which couldn't be built and tested with certainty that it would perform its safety-critical functions perfectly. Heart pacemakers and suchlike are highly complex, sure, but they are built from lots of very thoroughly tested and well-built smaller components, which work together.

A watch, is of course, a very complex piece of mechanical machinery. The idea that we are just cogs in a big machine is a good analogy: the machine is fucked without one of the cogs. A good machine has exactly as many cogs as it needs; no more no less. Another non-muppet who I admire is oft-quoted as saying that everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler. No non-muppet ever said "I like this, but wouldn't it be better if it was more complex?".

I know that arrogance and delusions of grandeur are - unfortunately - big problems that I have to deal with, as a result of my mental illness: bipolar disorder. I'm sure there are plenty of quiet, unassuming and humble people out there in the world - somewhere - who suffer from bipolar disorder, but I'm one of the more common ones: I have a lot of confidence in my skills and abilities, which is frankly justified, because I don't think I'm a muppet, because every project I work on is a big success. But, as I said before, maybe I'm the muppet.

Of course, there's no "I" in team but there is a "me". There's also a hole in the "A". If your team doesn't have an a-hole in it, you're the a-hole. I often think that I'm probably the a-hole. Etc.

I know that we're all supposed to think of ourselves as the humble tiny cog, meaning that we're replaceable and not very important. I know that we're supposed to believe that our individual contribution is negligible. Frankly, that's a load of horse shit.

Sure, if you just want to turn up at a place for a few hours, in order to get money, and you really don't give a shit about what you do there, so long as you don't hate it so much that you kill yourself, then yes, you probably are "just a cog in the machine" in the way that most people mean. However, if you care about delivering successful outcomes and take pride in your work, then you too are a cog in the machine: that is to say, the machine is fucked without you.

Of course, capitalism has attempted to turn all workers into de-skilled automata, instead of highly sought after, valuable craftsmen. Instead of having some highly skilled scientists, mathematicians, engineers and suchlike, who are experts in their field, and experts on the particular projects they are working on, capitalism would prefer it if everyone was replaceable at the drop of a hat, so that anybody who's not kowtowing to their paymasters can be unceremoniously ejected from the workplace.

In my particular profession - software engineering - capitalism has succeeded to some extent, in that vast quantities of extremely poor quality code is produced, most of which will never be assembled into any kind of working system, delivering any kind of tangible benefits as intended, because fucking muppets are in charge, and muppets think that they're the brains and they just need a bunch of programmers to be typists for their 'perfect' requirements.

Maybe I'm a muppet, because I could accept a meagre wage, doff my cap at the muppets and pretend like they're not muppets. I could pretend I'm a lowly programmer instead of a highly skilled, experienced and seasoned veteran software engineer. I could pretend like I don't see the utter stupidity. I could allow the projects I work on to be late. I could allow the projects I work on to go overbudget. I could allow the projects I work on to fail. If I just wanted money, why would I care? I'm a muppet -surely- for not shutting my mouth and just taking the money.

Of course, lots of people care; lots of people want the projects to be on time, on budget and to succeed... but only the skilled craftsmen - the engineers - can make that a reality. No amount of spreadsheet monkey muppets can turn a failing project into a success, but one or two excellent engineers can.

Anyway... I guess I'll be looking for a job again soon. The muppets don't like it when I attempt to do things the right way and make their goddam project a success, weirdly, and they can't wait to get rid of me when they think they don't need me anymore. About to be unceremoniously ejected from the workplace, I think.

 

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Who Am I?

6 min read

This is a story about identity...

Punting

I'm always rather taken aback by anybody who asks who I am, given that I've written and published more than 1.3 million words, which have exhaustively documented who I am... or so I thought.

I suppose for an ordinary middle-class person, the question "who are you?" is really one of a few standard questions, which allow a person to be quickly bracketed; pigeon holed. Let's explore those questions, and the answers.

"What do you do?" - this is the classic middle-class question. The question could be rewritten more accurately as "how do you sell your labour to the capitalists?". The thrust of this question is to establish whether a person has a respectable job. If you're a solicitor, an accountant, a doctor or suchlike, then you are a person of interest because several assumptions can be made, which means a lot of subsequent questions can be skipped. Really, the question we'd love to ask is "how rich are you?" but it seems a little vulgar, so middle-class people take a rather indirect route in an attempt to establish an answer.

My answer to "how rich are you?" is that I have £26,000 in my bank account, I own a car worth £1,500 and a handful of possessions worth no more than a few thousand pounds. My salary is £732 per month. I am not rich.

My answer to "what do you do?" would rather obfuscate the fact that I am not rich, because I am a company director and IT consultant.

"Where did you go to university?" - this is another classic middle-class question. Obviously an Oxbridge education means that you're most likely rich, because most Oxbridge students are rich. There are the red-brick universities, such as Manchester and Birmingham, the Oxbridge reject universities like Durham and Exeter, and the highly regarded universities such as Imperial, UCL and suchlike. Then, there are the Russel Group universities, which are respected. If you went anywhere else, you're probably poor and/or stupid. It would seem more direct to ask "are you stupid?" but this is considered rude.

My answer to "are you stupid?" is no.

My answer to "where did you go to university?" is nowhere, which is rather confusing, as this would seem to suggest that I wasn't clever enough; my exam results weren't adequate. Nope. I had unconditional offers from some of the best universities in the UK. I didn't go because I wanted and needed to earn money, which I did by getting onto a graduate training programme with the UK's number one aerospace and defence company, age 17, despite not having a university degree. See - not stupid.

"Where do you live?" - yet another middle-class cliché. Of course, the real question is "how much is your house worth?". Through indirect questions, the questionner is attempting to establish whether you own a big house in a desirable area, which is likely to indicate that you're rich.

My answer to "how much is your house worth?" is that I don't own a house. See earlier answers.

My answer to "where do you live?" is a leafy suburb of Cardiff; certainly an extremely desirable area. Oh, and for a bonus, I live in a 4 bedroom house with period features, worth about £350,000... but of course, I don't own it. Well, frankly nobody owns their house, do they... except old people. The bank owns the house and they let you live there as long as you pay the mortgage. It's not yours. The title deeds at the Land Registry state who the owner is: the bank.

"What do you drive?" - this is one of the more shallow and transparently money-obsessed questions, but one that very often gets asked; a surefire attempt to socioeconomically bracket somebody... to feel the thickness of their wallet. Again, you might as well ask "are you rich?" but we already asked that one, so maybe the question should be more "what status symbols do you own?".

My answer to "what status symbols do you own?" is none. I don't have an expensive watch. I don't have a flashy expensive car. I suppose my pedigree cat perhaps qualifies as a status symbol, but I don't think of that cute little ball of fluff in that way.

My answer to "what do you drive?" is an 11-year-old car, with a big dent in it where an idiot drove into it in an otherwise empty car park, which I haven't been bothered to fix yet... because, well, it's an 11 year old car, so who cares? Of course I like cars. I could spend some of my £26,000 on a fancy car, but I won't, mostly because I hardly drive anywhere.

Those are pretty much the only questions that seem to matter to the middle-class people who are trying to size me up. They're certainly not trying to get to know me so these questions are sufficient to bracket me, somewhat.

Of course, the real answer to "who are you?" is much more complex. So complex, in fact, that 1.3 million words doesn't even begin to answer it.

If you think that I'm a self-centred narcissist, you're probably right, but I've lived with suicidal depression and come close to dying enough times to feel that I'm somewhat entitled (emphasis to underscore my extreme self-centred narcissism) to leave some kind of record of who I was behind, to survive me after I'm gone. I don't have any easily recognisable and understood label, which I can affix to myself: my profession is poorly understood and often labelled as "geek" or "nerd" or something else undesirable, even though it powers the modern world; without IT consultants - software engineers like me - you wouldn't be reading this right now, because the internet wouldn't exist. You're welcome. I'm an alumnus of a prestigious technology accelerator programme, which was held at the University of Cambridge, but of course as you know, I can't claim to be a graduate; I merely beat thousands of other applicants for one of ten precious places; I merely wowed Cambridge Union Society and some packed lecture theatres. What label should I wear?

Loser, I expect.

 

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I Let My Friend Commit Suicide

8 min read

This is a story about playing god...

Phone

On the 10th of December 2017, a very close friend of mine got me a job at an investment bank. He knew that I was virtually bankrupt. He knew that I had very nearly managed to commit suicide. He knew that my self-esteem was at rock bottom and that I had nothing going for me: no fixed abode, no money, mountainous debts, alcoholism and large gaps on my CV which were difficult to explain.

My friend rang me up and asked if I was sober enough to create a piece of software for the bank he was working for. I said that I could be as drunk as a skunk and still make a decent software system, but that I wasn't in too bad shape - he could count on me to deliver a successful project, if he recommended me as a freelance software engineer to his boss.

If you're particularly interested in the more identity-theft worthy items of my story, I present to you above, the proof that I had proudly put on my suit and gone to work in the Square Mile - also known as the City of London - thanks to the endorsement of my friend. I had spent the day before with my friend and his boss in Warsaw, where they were based, and I was allowed to work in the London office, which is pictured.

A year later my friend phoned me and told me that he was going to commit suicide, by taking an overdose of insulin. I asked him how much insulin he possessed and in what form - vials and 'rapid delivery' pen cartridges - so I could calculate how many doses of insulin he had, and whether it was a lethal dose.

Insulin aspart units is what the layman needs to understand. One 10ml vial might contain 1,000 units. One 3ml pen cartridge might contain 300 units. The important thing is to add up all the vials and cartridges that somebody has, and then you can work out how many units of insulin aspart they have in their possession. My friend confirmed that he had many thousands of units of insulin aspart. The highest recorded survival of an insulin overdose was much lower than the amount my friend possessed, and that patient was left very badly brain damaged. In short, it was a credible suicide threat.

(FYI: people have made surprisingly frequent disclosures to me that they plan to commit suicide by overdose, but this was the first credible overdose plan I'd heard)

So, having scoured the medical literature for the LD50 - the dose that will kill 50% of people - and found that my friend could definitely commit suicide with his insulin, I then did further reading about how long it would take him to die, how long he would remain in a state where he could be saved, and how much suffering and pain he would endure.

Incidentally, he phoned me on a Monday morning while I was at work. I was in Wales and he was in Poland. I was frantically doing this research as rapidly as I could, while trying to keep my friend talking to me; stalling him from following through with his plans.

My research concluded that he would suffer a short period of panic and disorientation - including extreme hunger - before blacking out. He would quickly fall into a hypoglycaemic coma, and would suffer no pain.

Far more disturbingly, my research concluded that he could be 'saved' by rapid medical intervention - an intravenous infusion of glucose - for a substantial period of time: 2 or even 3 days would be 'survivable'. The worst possible outcome would be that he would be 'saved' after 12 to 36 hours, when he might still be in a coma, but he would have suffered terrible brain damage. The case study I had read of the patient who holds the 'record' for the highest ever insulin overdose which was survived, was left with terrible brain damage. All my research led to a single conclusion: if my friend injected all his insulin then I had to call the emergency services IMMEDIATELY or wait until he was beyond the point of 'saving'.

This sounds like playing god, doesn't it?

You remember that time your kid was choking on a bit of Lego and you whacked them on the back so they coughed it up? That was playing god. You remember when your dog was getting old and sick, and you decided they had no quality of life anymore, so you had the dog euthanised? That was playing god.

I'm not a doctor.

I'm not a vet.

I'm not a parent.

What exactly qualifies a person to make a life/death decision?

In this instance, I knew that my friend's diabetes had ruined his circulation and his feet were becoming gangrenous, that he was becoming jaundiced and that his eyesight was failing, because of his mismanagement of his diabetes. In short, he struggled to go about his ordinary daily business, and his health was rapidly deteriorating. I'm not a doctor, but I'm not a magician either - nobody can wave a magic wand and make the chronic irreversible health damage from alcoholism and diabetes disappear. I'm not a doctor, but I know that they don't give liver transplants to alcoholics. I'm not a doctor, but I know how long somebody has to live once their liver is starting to fail and they continue to drink multiple bottles of vodka every day.

Ultimately, it wasn't my decision to make.

My friend phoned me because he knew that I would understand the situation and that I wouldn't panic and phone the emergency services. He knew that he could say goodbye to me, and I would let him die with dignity; in the manner of his own choosing.

Let's not fuck about here: sitting doing nothing, waiting for your friend to die before you ring the emergency services to go and get the body before it starts decaying, is an awful, awful, awful thing to have to do.

Can you imagine knowing that your friend is dying, and that the best thing to do is to do nothing? Every single moment of your childhood, you were told to dial the emergency services if somebody was sick or dying. There was no ambiguity about what to do when somebody's life's in danger: ring the emergency services. EMERGENCY! EMERGENCY!

If I phoned the emergency services too soon, my friend would have been 'saved' and then would no longer have had the opportunity to end his life in the manner of his own choosing. He probably would have been extremely brain damaged, and therefore unable to attempt suicide again. He would have lived out his short remaining time in a hospital bed, dying of liver failure, which is a very unpleasant way to die. Sure, the hospital would have made him as 'comfortable' as possible, but what comfort is there in being bedridden, watching your friends and relative weep and wail about your imminent inevitable demise. My friend had considered all these things.

Did I mention we discussed all this? We discussed all this at length. I went to a great deal of effort to persuade my friend of more positive alternatives. I tried my very best to convince him that it might be much better to use the short time he had left - before liver failure killed him - in order to take a trip of a lifetime, and/or see loved ones.

We have to understand that this was his decision, based on the terrible choices he faced. There were no 'good' options. He had to choose between a quick painless death or a slow painful one, with all of his family, friends and co-workers by his bedside, watching him slip away.

What my personal opinion of the 'right' choice was, is of no concern. My friend asked me to keep it a secret that he was killing himself, until he was dead, and that's what I did. I honoured his wishes. I was a loyal friend who did a very difficult thing, because I knew it's what my friend wanted.

"Oh but your friend really wanted to live" or "it was a cry for help" or "you should always phone the emergency services; you're not qualified" etc. etc. are all the very many opinions I have to defend myself against. Bullshit. Bullshit. Bullshit.

I spent 3 days, not sleeping, not able to think about anything other than the fact that my friend was dying, and then I phoned the emergency services to go and retrieve my friend's lifeless body and notify his next of kin. It was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. It was also the right thing to do because it was the dying wish of my friend. There were no good options. I chose the least bad option.

Today is the anniversary of the phone-calls, the discussions and the decision. Today is the last time I spoke to my very dear friend. For exactly one year, I've had to live with the guilt of knowing that I kept a terrible secret, for just long enough that my friend could pass away painlessly.

It's a terrible thing, but I let my friend commit suicide, and I did nothing.

 

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MMORPG

2 min read

This is a story about co-operative play...

Java

What's the game I'm playing right now? Well, it's called "get the massive software system to work before the damn hard deadline". It's a multiplayer game. It's fun.

I've spent all evening chatting to some genuinely delightful colleagues. Instead of trash-talking the overpaid fuckwits, I should be raving about what a pleasure it is to work with some brilliant individuals.

I'm not so sure I would go as far as to say "I love my job" given that earlier I very much wanted to down tools and give up until the morning, in the face of overwhelming technical obstacles. I was inclined to wait for a couple of more skilled individuals to be on hand to offer some real, tangible, useful assistance, but I lucked out on being able to take a couple of nice shortcuts.

The joy has come from the camaraderie of working with the select group of individuals who really care; who really know their onions and are used to working under pressure, having to solve nasty problems with a gun to their head and a crazy number of people breathing down their neck.

The chips are down. This is sink or swim time. This is where shit gets real. I love it.

Earlier I thought "is it only Monday?" and I thought that I should give up and take it easy, because it's going to be a long week. Then, I got creative and found a way though. I've been doing work-related stuff up to 10pm but I don't care, because we're making progress; we're kicking ass.

This is fun. It's sociable.

 

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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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Emotionally Unstable

7 min read

This is a story about repeating patterns...

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What am I doing? It feels like I'm making the same mistakes I've made a bunch of times before. It feels like I'm re-living 2015, and I didn't like how things went that year, so I'm desperate to avoid making those mistakes, but I feel like my mood disorder has got me stuck in an inescapable pattern.

Strictly speaking, I have two mood disorders: bipolar and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). The latter disorder means that I'm unable to escape a downturn in my mood as summer turns into winter, unless I head to warmer climate. The former disorder means that I'm prone to episodes of mania, which I always like to believe I'm in control of, because I enjoy the mania and find it immensely useful for creativity and productivity.

Looking back to 2015, at the time I felt like I was enjoying playing a pivotal role in the number one project for the biggest bank in Europe. In retrospect, I was very unwell indeed. My behaviour was quite erratic and unpredictable and it's kind of hard to pinpoint exactly why I feel like I was doing good work, now that I think about it. For sure, I helped bang some heads together and get things moving to meet some key deadlines, but I was definitely suffering very badly with a severe episode of mental illness, and I hadn't been working on the project for very long so I expect my contribution was negligible. This is what gives me a great deal of fear that I'm repeating the same mistakes: that history is repeating itself.

In 2015 I was working a lot of overtime. I was working most weekends. I was working extremely hard - long hours - and I had the additional pressure of moving house, given that I was homeless and living in a hostel. Also, it hadn't been very long since I had been in a dreadful state, with my brain chemistry completely messed up. I had terrible insomnia. I was a big mess.

Today, I have a house and a cat. My home life is comparatively settled, although I've had some relationship problems lately which have been very destabilising. My working routine is not too taxing - I have a short commute to the office, and the hours I work are strictly Monday to Friday. If I leave the office at 5:30pm, that's a long day for me. In 2015 I was routinely staying in the office past 9pm, and often to 11pm, and then staying up all night writing emails, which was not at all healthy or conducive to good mental health.

In some ways I feel that I'm in much better health than I was in 2015, and I stand a much better chance of getting through an incredibly stressful period at work without losing my mind. However, late on Friday I lost my cool at the office, and the emotions that have been bottled up started to come out, which wasn't very professional. I started to speak my mind way more than I should have done, and I started to send off messages with a scattergun approach. I stopped approaching problems in a calm and methodical manner, and instead I acted with desperation and superstition. I was afraid that all my hard work was in ruins. Strangely, I thought I was dreaming; or rather having a nightmare.

I suppose my sleep quality is compromised at the moment. Several nights a week I don't sleep well because there's a technical problem I can't stop thinking about. My dreams are all about my work. In fact, my dreams are nightmares, where I attempt again and again to resolve the problems I left at the office. As soon as I wake up, I rush to the office to pick up where I left off.

A colleague has mentioned in private that I should take it easy; not get so obsessed over the project. A colleague has correctly identified me as somebody who can make themselves sick through overwork - at risk of burnout; at risk of a breakdown. It's good advice - that I should try to maintain some balance. Becoming obsessed by work is very unhealthy.

Yesterday, I left a rambling garbled and emotional voicemail for a colleague, begging them to let me do something over the weekend. I spent time trying to find colleagues who would help me with a piece of work, and ended up getting somebody to do something for me at 11pm. It's too much. It's too intense. It's too crazy.

I have no idea if I'm eternally doomed to suffer from delusions of grandeur, and to repeatedly burn out, only to look back and realise that my negligible contribution was laughable; pathetic. I have no idea if my perceptions are warped and I'm unable to grasp just how bad an episode of mental illness I'm suffering from. It's hell being so functional, and having so much feedback which seems to corroborate all the apparent evidence that I'm being incredibly productive and useful, but yet I also have a whole load of evidence that the end result always seems to be the same: burnout, crash, disaster, destitution, destruction. Am I a fool for hoping that this time is the time when everything finally works out for me, and I get the glory I crave?

Looking back to 2008 and 2011, I was able to make it to the finishing line with a gigantic project for JPMorgan and a TechStars program technology startup accelerator. I was able to deliver, but at huge personal cost. Both times I ended up in a terrible state. I was too fixated on the specific delivery date, and I didn't think about what would come afterwards. I didn't handle the anticlimax well at all. The episodes of depression that followed the frantic manic energy which allowed me to deliver on time, were so destructive that all my hard work was destroyed... or was it? JPMorgan was able to process quadrillions of dollars of credit default swaps, using the software I designed and built. My tech startup was able to continue trading profitably and getting new customers, even though I was too sick to work. The cost was to me personally. I was ashamed that I couldn't continue to function at the same intensity, and I assumed that everyone would hate me for getting sick. I threw away those opportunities, because I assumed that they were ruined. I assumed that everybody saw me as damaged goods; unreliable and untrustworthy.

I have no idea if I'm destined for another personal disaster. I certainly worry that I won't be able to cope with the end of my contract, and the end of my involvement with the project I'm so unhealthily obsessed with. I suppose I need to mitigate against any probable crash in my mood. I suppose I need to plan ahead.

I can't imagine I'll be able to find a good contract locally. I can't imagine how I'm going to juggle my need to find a well-paid contract, with my cat and my house rental agreement. It's a stress that I really don't want to have to deal with right now. It's stress that I really wish would go away - if only my contract could be extended for another year, that would be perfect.

My life is a rollercoaster, so we would expect my mood to be too. It's hard to unpick my mood disorder from the circumstances of my life. I like to think that my mood is dictated by the time of year and other things that are going on, such as whether I'm in a good relationship or not. I like to think that my extreme moods will abate as my life improves.

 

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