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The world's longest suicide note: ONE MILLION words.

I write about life with bipolar disorder (a.k.a. manic depression).

All opinions are my own.

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My Friend The Alcoholic

6 min read

This is a story about unorthodoxy...

JPMorgan

This time last year I saw my old friend from JPMorgan in Warsaw. He'd just gotten me a job. I was almost bankrupt. Some years ago we had been propping up the bar at 4am, the last remaining men standing after all-day-drinking to celebrate me leaving the investment banking world... temporarily. We have the same attitude and approach to life: Everything to excess.

I'm writing this with a little haste, because I'm in a compromised situation.

I need to tell my friend not to kill himself - having received a number of worrisome messages and a call recently - but I can't do so in a direct manner, because it's barely more than a year ago that I tried to take my own life. I know that nobody could have talked me out of it. When I communicated, I did so to ensure that my intentions were clear: I did not want misadventure or an open verdict to be recorded by the coroner.

But.

This is not about me.

This is about a friend who sounds like he's about to end his life.

I have no idea what the emergency setup is in Poland. I have no idea whether a person can be located by their smartphone. I have no idea what the crisis intervention services are like. I have no idea what it's like to be 'sectioned' or otherwise interred for your own safety - 'committed' one might say - in Poland, and whether I might be unwittingly unloading a whole unwanted extra pile of shit on my friend's head, by raising the alarm.

I'm not ungrateful to those who contacted the emergency services on my behalf, who undoubtedly saved my life, but I'm aware that my decision-making power was taken from my hands. In fact, I clearly said at the hospital that I didn't want any medical intervention, but they decided I didn't have the capacity to make the decision to refuse treatment.

Does my friend have capacity?

He says he's drinking 2 or 3 bottles of vodka per day. I'm a borderline alcoholic, and I'd say that my judgement is pretty impaired when under the influence. I doubt I'd have so readily swallowed all those tablets during my suicide attempt last year if it wasn't for the Dutch courage of a gutful of booze.

It's easier to make the final decision when intoxicated.

Perhaps this gives me the moral authority to intervene and save my friend from himself. Perhaps it's my duty to inform the emergency services, such that my friend can sober up and then see how he feels about killing himself once he's got a clear head. How's he going to feel about being forced to sober up and face the decision to go on living in the cold light of day, with a dreadful hangover?

I can tell you all the answers to these questions.

I can tell you exactly how it feels to regain consciousness when you had hoped you'd be dead.

So can my friend.

I can't patronise him. I can't talk him out of what he wants to do. I can't approach the subject.

Strangely, I hope he has capacity enough to read this.

If he does - and I might try to prompt him into reading it - then what do I want him to know?

He needs to know that almost exactly one year ago, I was convinced that my life was totally beyond any hope of salvaging, but he salvaged my life. He got me a job, which rescued me from certain bankruptcy. He got me a job in the nick of time. He saved my bacon.

What can I do for my friend?

I remember he told me how buoyed he was by all the support I get via social media. I remember how emotional it made him feel, reading the comments section on my blog.

I want him to feel that outpouring of love from all four corners of the globe. I want him to feel anchored by connections.

My friend and I tend to value our sense of self-worth by the number of dollars, euros or pounds that somebody will press into our sweaty palms for a day's labour. My friend and I both feel valued when we're paid a lot and a company is chasing us for our skills.

It's disturbing to me that my friend knows that he can get a highly paid job in any investment bank in the world. He knows that he's needed and wanted in the corporate sector. It's worrisome that he knows that, but it's somehow not enough. I can relate. I know what that feels like.

I don't know what to offer him.

To remind him of his value and how much he's cherished is a cliché. I can't patronise him by talking about how much he'd be missed and what a huge hole he'd leave in all the lives he touches.

We're talking about the man who quite literally reversed my fortunes, exactly 12 months ago - from bankrupt to bankrolled; from rags to riches.

What can I say, except that I've written these 900 words with as much speed as I can manage, because from the tone and content of my last phonecall with my friend, he's in a very bad way. I'm very worried about him. I'm acting as swiftly as I can, in an unorthodox fashion, because I want to do something to interrupt and disrupt his behaviour, which looks to be on collision course with disaster.

I know that if anybody said to me that I lacked capacity, or was so patronising as to believe that they know better, and I should be relieved of the decision-making power to end my own life, then I would become doubly stubborn and bloody minded. I'd kill myself just to prove you wrong. Of course I would.

What can I say? I need to publish this, urgently.

I hope my friend reads this. I hope my friend - who helped me get back on my feet almost exactly a year ago - is somewhat moved by my desperation to try something, anything to move the conversation towards positive exciting plans for the future, and our next adventures.

I haven't been writing regularly, and of course I tend to be very self-centred, but I hope that I can continue to write, and include my friend as a living member of the tiny little world in which I inhabit. There are quite literally only two people who I speak to on a regular basis, one of whom is threatening to make an early departure from the party.

He might feel a little uncomfortable that I've made references that almost made him identifiable. Good. I'd rather have him angry and upset with me, than having missed an opportunity to get his attention. I'm being deliberately disruptive and provocative.

Please, mate, don't put me in this position!

Don't make me decide whether I have to call the emergency services or not!

This sucks!

 

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I Work Hard: The Proof

7 min read

This is a story about brainwork...

Graphite piano

In 2008 I became suicidally depressed. I'd been part of the project which had been at the centre of the global financial crisis: namely the trading of quadrillions of dollars worth of credit default swaps (CDS) which had grown in notional book value to be manyfold greater than the aggregate value of all the tangible things, such as precious metals, rare gemstones, property, factories, oil, gas, coffee, coins, banknotes and anything else which you could point at and say "that's worth something".

The world had lost its mind.

I knew it was coming of course. I had bought gold in 2005. I had negotiated a great mortgage in 2007 knowing there was a credit crunch on the horizon. In some ways I had tangible proof that I had been doing something valuable because I owned property, cars, boats and other things, as well as considerable amounts of liquid assets. In short: I was rich.

I got rich from data and software. I got rich off the back of investment banking and derivatives contracts. I got rich off a whole lot of nothing.

In 2008 it really felt like I'd presided over the most awful crime ever perpetrated against humanity.

I'd worked hard and I'd done my job very effectively. I thought about the bigger picture and I knew - deep down - that what we were doing at JPMorgan was wrong, but I'm an engineer and I like delivering engineering solutions. If somebody asks me "can you do this?" then I want to be the problem-solving can-do guy who comes up with the solution and delivers a working system. Often times I stop and take a step back, and think about the context of what I'm doing - I consider the ethics - but that's not really my job. I just design and build software systems.

The whole "I just work here" or "I was just following orders" thing is how the Nazis managed to kill 6 million jews, so I'm not going to hide behind that flimsy defence.

I know what I did was wrong.

So, I decided to completely ditch investment banking. I decided to do something that was the polar opposite of investment banking. I retrained in the building trade.

Instead of working in an office, I worked in customers' houses. Instead of working to devise arcane and impenetrably complicated ways of moving imaginary wealth around the globe, I helped build houses for people to live in. Instead of working for a massive faceless global corporation, intent on destroying the worldwide economy and plunging us all into the deepest and longest recession in history, I worked for myself - I was a sole trader; a man with a van.

I discovered that what I'd always suspected was true: I work hard.

It's hard to prove that you work hard, when all your hard work is hidden away behind the scenes. You have no idea how hard it was to build all the websites and apps that you use every day. You completely take for granted all the facets of the modern world, where you can speak to your phone and express your unique special snowflake personality on social media. The geeks and the nerds are derided as autistic-spectrum weirdo scum, who are all potential paedophile predator perverts who deserved to have a miserable childhood getting bullied at school.

While we celebrate the doctors, nurses, firemen, policemen and suchlike, because their contribution to society is conspicuously obvious and easy to understand - like a game of cops & robbers - questions such as "what is the internet?" belie the hideous complexity of that innocuous 4-word question. If you're looking for a convenient Google-provided soundbite synopsis that you can parrot to other people, in the vague hope of sounding intelligent, you're doing a disservice to those geeks and nerds who you persecuted at school, who are the architects of the fourth industrial revolution.

It's very hard for me to prove to you that I've been working very hard during my 21-year full-time career. You're quite likely to accuse me of not working very hard at all, because there are people out there who do a lot more physical labour, and what they produce is a lot more tangible and more easily understood in a childlike brain.

It was immensely frustrating to me that I had no easily understood empirical evidence to prove how hard I work; to prove that I'm a busy bee.

I started to write.

I've written the equivalent of 22 novels over the course of 3 years.

Of course a lot of what I've written is manic rantings, but one should be mindful that during the course of the 3 years I've also written a lot of software, and software doesn't work if it's wrong. One missing semicolon in millions of lines of code and the whole thing will be kaput. You should consider the fact that it's a facet of my profession to write with coherence and attention to detail, because my editor has zero tolerance for mistakes: the computer can't handle errors.

It pleases me that I've produced 1.1 million words in my spare time as proof that I'm not an idle drug addict loser. It pleases me that I have a tangible asset, which vastly exceeds the length of the King James Bible.

Would you accuse an author of a bestselling series of novels, as being unproductive and not working for their living?

I say again: I've been writing in addition to my full-time day job.

It's true that sometimes I find my day job very easy and unchallenging, but there are other days when there are gremlins in the incomprehensibly huge and complex computer software systems, and those problems are very hard to diagnose and fix. Manual labour is governed by a simple and well understood set of physical laws: the energy requirements to lift and move heavy objects is quite easy to calculate. The amount of brainwork required to fix a problem with one of your beloved apps or websites - to give a facile example - which might affect millions of people, is not an easy calculation at all. If you think what I do is unimportant, you should see the public response every time Instagram stops working or Snapchat introduces a major change.

My motivation for writing this is, of course, insecurity. I struggle with feelings of inadequacy and guilt. Imposter syndrome asserts itself and I wonder what the hell I've been doing with two decades of my life, with nothing to show for it except a lot of crummy software which almost nobody is aware even exists. I would struggle to explain to either of my grandmothers what I do for a living, especially now they're dead.

I exist in a strange part of the world. I'm a 'tame' geek who can speak plain English. I don't surround myself with other technologists and I'm cursed with a bleeding-heart liberal streak and an inquiring mind, which causes me to question whether I'm part of the problem or part of the solution.

Because of my guilt, work ethic and insecurity, I feel like I have to create a very conspicuous and public display of my productivity, which can be easily understood. Here's the headline: 1.1 million words in 3 years.

I write because I'm afraid that you'll write me off as a lazy junkie waste-of-space loser who doesn't do anything productive or useful. I write because I don't see much other evidence that I ever existed or did anything notable; that I ever contributed to society.

"Use your talent and energy for good" I hear you say. Yup. That's working out really great for the oppressed workers, isn't it? I'm so glad that charity has been so successful that it's made itself completely redundant as a concept.

I write because I haven't decided what else to do, but I'm still thinking, of course. You might think that thinking is useless, but what is writing except for thinking on a page?

 

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Vile Hateful Little Man

8 min read

This is a story about misanthropy...

Lift selfie

On this day 5 years ago, I tried to help a homeless alcoholic called Frank. I made a lot of notes. As my divorce disrputed my attempt to get my life back on track in London, dragging me back to Bournemouth to empty and sell my house, it destroyed my fragile new life and plunged me into the very world of homeless hell, which I had usefully compiled notes on. I did manage to help Frank, but ironically crosssed paths with him later on - as I was descending into hell, he was well on his way to recovery.

On this day 4 years ago, I got myself off the streets, out of the 14-bed hostel dorm, and back into banking. I went to Barclays, which quickly dug me out of debt and restored some long overdue health, wealth and prosperity to my life.

On this day 3 years ago, I went to HSBC and repeated the same magic trick of managing to get myself back off the streets, out of the hostel, into a lovely Thameside apartment, and out of debt. Feeling like my life was going well, I went to a hackathon to create technology solutions to the refugee crisis.

On this day 2 years ago, I was lying to my girlfriend and my guardian angel, because the project I'd been working on had ended prematurely and I hadn't bothered to get another contract. Instead, I had tried to treat my own depression with medication prescribed by an online pharmacy, destabilising my mental health - inducing hypomania - and causing a subsequent relapse.

On this day last year, I woke up as a resident of Wales for the first time since being born here. The day before, I had been discharged from a psych ward in Manchester, England, following a suicide attempt which was very nearly successful.

I'm pretty upset that divorce was such a destabilising distraction at a time when I desperately needed a clean break, and I'm struggling to forgive and forget my ex-wife and parents sabotaging all my hard work; destroying my chance to follow through with well thought out plans which were subsequenty proven to be correct and successful.

I can blame the Barclays thing not working out on a couple of idiots who got fired for trying to screw me over, but in all truth, I wasn't very stable. I was too outspoken. I didn't keep my mouth shut. I made mistakes in my personal life. I had lapses.

I can blame the HSBC thing not working out on the sheer pressure and workload of working on their number one project, while also dealing with homelessness and cripling debt. I can blame a friend who asked me to help him get a job. I can blame a few loafers who benefitted from my hard work. But, again, I was too outspoken. I wasn't at all stable. I was so exhausted and stressed that I was very strung out and very manic.

I can blame not wanting to immediately get another contract 2 years ago on the fact that the project had been so mind-numbingly spirit-crushingly boring, and I'd been so de-skilled, that I'd lost all self-confidence. I really couldn't face any more of the same awfulness without taking a break. However, it was still my so-called 'choice' to relapse and I knew the consequences were likely to be dire, although I kinda "got away with it" that one time.

I can blame attempting suicide and nearly dying on the fact that I knew instinctively that I was in deep trouble. The contract in Manchester didn't pay enough to get me out of debt. I knew I was going to get shafted by a very unpleasant and immoral wannabe Labour MP, who embodies none of the values of socialism. I was working too hard for too little reward, but I also made bad so-called 'choices' such as getting mixed up with a social group who mostly bonded over recreational drug abuse. There was no way I was going to be able to quit physically addictive sleeping pills, tranqulisers and neuropathic painkillers, as well as working a very demanding job which didn't even pay enough to make any kind of dent in my debts. Suicide was my choice, in the face of overwhelming odds stacked against me.

So, here I am in Wales.

What's going to be different this year?

I'm in approximately the same financial position that I've been in all those previous years. My mental health seems to be the same, swinging between suicidal depression and mania.

Just gotta keep my mouth shut.

Gotta make sure I don't go on any crusades, trying to save anybody.

Put on my own oxygen mask before helping others.

This year is different because I've been working for 10 consecutive months without a major fuck-up. Of course, there have been fuck-ups, but they haven't caused me to lose my contract or otherwise let my client down. I've delivered a couple of projects quite successfully, to the great satisfaction of my clients.

This year is different because I've had an affordable place to live of my own since March, and I don't have anybody mooching off me or otherwise trying to ride my coat tails. I don't have anybody pressurising me to subsidise their laziness and inability to make good on their financial commitments. I don't have anybody using my gas, electric, water, sewerage, council tax and broadband, and running up thousands of pounds worth of rent arrears.

This year is different because I've had contract extensions and managed to have consecutive contracts, such that I've hardly stopped working at all.

This year is different because I've been working on my skills and making myself more confident and employable. I've felt increasingly capable and good at my job, without getting too deep into the territory of delusions of grandeur.

This year is different because the pressure is markedly reduced and the stress levels are more manageable, despite crushing mountainous debts. There have been really awful times - such as renting a place to live - but I seem to be well established in a good routine now, such that I just need to keep turning the pedals.

I drink too much. I'm unfit.

However, in the space of 11 months I'll have managed to buy a car, rent an apartment, pay off £21,000 of debt, and save up enough money to pay a hefty tax bill. I don't enjoy living out of a suitcase, but I'm not slumming it anymore. I've been able to take a weekend break to see old friends in Prague and I have a week-long holiday to Turkey booked, which will be my first proper holiday for over 2 years. I stay in a nice hotel midweek and I eat in a gastropub. This is the self-care aspect, which didn't really get taken care of in previous years. There's no point working as hard as I do unless it's delivering some quality of life; I might as well just kill myself if life's going to be an unrewarding slog.

I sometimes can't believe what comes out of my mouth, in terms of the fucking rage which is somewhat pent-up inside me. This is a summary of the many false starts I've had, and nearly-but-not-quite moments, where it looked like I was going to make a breakthrough and get properly back on my feet. It's incredibly frustrating to repeatedly do the impossible - quitting addictive drugs, getting off the streets, out of the hostels and back into mainstream civilised society, while also dealing with a major mental health problem - and to see that there's nothing wrong with my approach per se. On paper, everything should go perfectly and quickly restore me to health, wealth and prosperity, but it does require a run of good luck, and that luck is very much dependent on the co-operation of other people.

Who do I want to blame? Capitalism? Banking? Bad bosses? Wimmin? Parents? Even friends?

I spend a lot of time writing very aggressive angry stuff.

I can't believe what I write.

Maybe this year won't be any different, because I'm a spoiled overprivileged vile bitter old man, who doesn't take any personal responsibility; I'm too quick to blame others.

We shall see. The story continues.

 

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In Debt

5 min read

This is a story about pride and self-esteem...

Warsaw hotel

At the start of December last year I was thrown a lifeline. A friend recommended me for a software project with an investment bank and I was awarded the contract. I flew to Warsaw using the last of my available credit. I ate sandwiches made in my cheap hotel room, spreading mayonaise on the bread with a shoe horn. The expenses of my business travel exhausted what little money I could lay my hands on, but I knew that it would eventually be a profitable gamble, even though it left me temporarily penniless. To be precise, for a whole month I had exactly £23 left available to me, having maxed out all my credit cards, my overdraft and my other borrowing facilities. I was flat broke.

We don't really talk about our debts.

Men regularly commit suicide because of their financial problems.

It's such a shameful thing, to be in debt.

It's so destructive to our self-esteem, being in debt.

The only reason why I've started to talk about my debts is because I see light at the end of the tunnel. Illness had reduced my average earnings to a pitiful level and the interest payment to service my loans was enormous, further compounding the problem. If you were to owe one penny at the time of the birth of Christ, with interest payable at 5% per annum your debt today would now be £9×1038. Nine quadrillion quadrillion pounds is only £9×1030 and there's barely a quadrillion dollars worth of 'stuff' in circulation, which is only £1×1015. To be precise, if we added up the value of all the banknotes, gold, silver, diamonds, houses, cars. factories, livestock, land and everything else which is supposedly tangible, it only adds up to £183,000,000,000,000, which is 1.83×1014.

This is why civilisations need to forgive debts, lest those civilisations collapse. Every civilisation that refused to forgive its debts collapsed.

When we start needing to use quadrillions and powers of ten to express sums of money, and the very best science, technology, engineering and mathematics graduate brains are all diverted into the time-wasting exercise of counting all those imaginary beans, it's time to wipe the slate clean.

I have a debt to a friend which absolutely must be repaid, because it's personal. That money was loaned without interest and was lent at considerable risk, as a vote-of-confidence in my abilities, and my friend's faith in my trustworthiness to make good on my promises and act with integrity.

The remainder of my debts serve as a barometer of how near to collapse our civilisation is. When our ordinary populace has to take on enormous amounts of debt just to live a normal life, it's a bad sign. When those debtors struggle to repay their debts, then the collapse of civilisation is imminent. There's no point repaying debts which are about to be scrubbed because money and the so-called economy have become surreal and ridiculous. There's no point repaying debts which weren't borrowed from anybody.

The vast majority of money which has been borrowed is not secured against any tangible asset. Most money was simply invented out of thin air. It's been a long time since we abandoned the gold standard: your banknote's promise to pay the bearer on demand no longer has any meaning whatsoever. The idea that not repaying your debts is somehow robbing a pensioner of their life savings is a dirty lie perpetuated by capitalists and bankers, which is simply not true.

It keeps me awake at night, worrying about how I'm going to repay my guardian angel, but I'm now at the point where I have saved enough money to clear my debt.

The shame of owing that money was killing me.

I couldn't write about my financial distress, because I couldn't see any way out.

I'm one of the lucky ones. I've been able to work off my debt. Most people who have huge debts will never be able to afford to repay them, no matter how hard they work.

We are at an inflection point. People are slowly realising that all their hard work does nothing except line the pockets of idle bankers, who invent money out of thin air, devaluing our currency to the point where the vast sums of so-called money in the economy is incomprehensibly vast except inside the electronic mind of a computer. Do you even know how many zeros there are in a quadrillion? It's a madness which has got to end.

This is a part of my story which is far more shameful and embarrassing than my homelessness and my drug addiction. To write about my debt is harder than anything I've written about to date.

 

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Compensation

5 min read

This is a story about maintaining equilibrium...

Handful of pills

I started the year £52,000 in debt, with no home and no car. I started the year addicted to painkillers and sleeping pills. I started the year in a very dire situation. The odds were stacked against me.

I managed to quit those addictive medications. I managed to avoid bankruptcy. I managed to rent a place to live. I managed to buy a car. I managed to earn and save enough money to repay half my debt.

That's right. I'm halfway there.

In actual fact, I'm being a bit premature. My total outstanding debt is £43,250 and I've managed to save up £23,400, which is more than 50% but I haven't actually made a substantial repayment yet, because I'm terribly afraid that I'm going to get sick. I'm on the brink of having a nervous breakdown. It's been unbelievably stressful and exhausting to get to this point.

Did I mention that I quit addictive painkillers and sleeping pills?

A little over a year ago I was physically addicted to vast quantities of Valium and Xanax, as well as everything else.

How the hell does a homeless, bankrupt, drug addict, with mountainous debts, go from being sectioned in a secure psych ward, to being able to repay nearly £25k of debts as well as renting a house, buying a car and holding down a good job?

Compensation.

To compensate for the horrific withdrawal of all those medications, which caused massive problems with anxiety and insomnia, it has been necessary for me to compensate. To compensate for the stress and the misery of being flat broke and having the threat of bankruptcy, homelessness and destitution hanging over me; the stress of having to work really hard to service debts and save up money to get back in the black - that's required me to compensate.

I've been compensating for the horrendous things going on in my personal life; the incredible stress.

I've compensated by over-eating and drinking too much.

The stress has been off the fucking charts.

My drinking has been out of control.

I've put on weight.

If you think I should eat less, eat healthy, exercise more and generally look after myself, I ask you to re-consider what I just told you. Somehow I've managed to quit 5 physically addictive medications, move house twice, service debts of over £50k, save up £24k, work 3 jobs, please my clients, zoom all over the fucking country and generally live a miserable austere life with no reward for my efforts.

My mealtimes and my alcoholism are all I've got to live for at the moment. Getting fat, unfit and destroying my health with alcohol isn't my idea of a great way to live - it's a reaction to my extreme circumstances, and the horrible suffering associated with the stress of being massively indebted, skint, insecure and withdrawing from very addictive medications.

A lot of people aren't able to tolerate the horribleness of the anxiety, the insomnia and generally feeling like you're going to die, when you stop taking medications like Valium and Xanax. A lot of people will be hooked for life on their antidepressants, sleeping pills, tranquillisers, sedatives, painkillers and other such medications, because they can't stand the withdrawal.

A lot of people are destroyed by their debts. So many suicides are precipitated by financial problems. When you're deep in a debt hole and bankruptcy seems to be like the only option, that's a life-ruining thing to happen, because a bankruptcy is a black mark against your name for the rest of your life. Try renting a place to live as a bankrupt. Try getting a good job as a bankrupt. Try living any kind of life in this modern debt-driven society as a bankrupt.

My way of compensating for the difficulties in my life has been to comfort eat and get drunk.

I hate it.

I'm getting fat and unfit. I'm destroying my health.

It's a race against time.

I need to clear my debts before my unhealthy eating and abusive drinking kills me.

Don't tell me to eat healthy, eat less, drink less, exercise and otherwise make my life any more fucking miserable than it already is. I know what I'm doing to myself and I know what I'd do if I wasn't under such extreme pressure and stress; so distressed and living a life of such abject misery. I'm taking a very calculated but extreme risk, to escape from the trap - the trap of debt, the trap of addiction, the trap of homelessness, the trap of poverty, the trap of mental health problems, the trap of misery and hopelessness.

That I've managed to almost escape so much that threatened to destroy me, is remarkable. The only way I've managed to achieve it is by compensating with over-eating and drinking too much. My health is getting fucked up. My appearance is getting fucked up. I hate everything about my life, but I'm halfway to freedom.

I did intend on writing this once I've finally managed to make a great big £24,000 downpayment on my debts, bringing things down to an amount I can pay back in 3 or 4 months, which seems much more achievable.

I've achieved the fucking impossible.

I had to write this now, because I can't hold on much longer. Every week is unbearable, but every week inches me a little closer to freedom.

Getting to the end of September will be a huge milestone.

October I need to take some well-earned and very overdue rest.

November and December I need to make sure I stay sane and healthy and keep my job.

2019 is potentially the year I turn my whole life around.

Still so far to go.

It fucking sucks.

But there is a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.

 

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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.

But.

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.

So.

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.

 

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An Essay on the Abolition of Interest Slavery

7 min read

This is a story about the money multiplier...

Cash

Let us imagine for a moment that I manage to obtain a banking license and start a brand new bank, but I don't have any money. In this hypothetical example you want to buy a house valued at £100,000 - for the sake of easy maths - and you have a £10,000 deposit. Further, let us imagine that there are lots of people who would be glad to take out personal loans, overdrafts, credit cards and other kinds of borrowing, and pay high rates of interest. Let us set the central bank lending rate at 0.5%, the mortgage rate at 5% and the unsecured lending rate at 20%. With me so far?

What I seek to prove to you is how capitalism is rigged so that those who control the money in the economy - the bankers and other capitalists - can make as much money as they want and not work at all, while the rest of us pay double. We pay with everything we earn and we pay again because we pay with our time and labour, which all ends up in the pockets of the capitalists.

Here's how it works.

You go to your bank with your £10,000 deposit. You give the bank your hard-earned cash.

Then, here comes the magic trick.

Your £10,000 is a liability on the bank's balance sheet. That is to say, if you were to deposit £10,000 the bank would be liable to pay you back as and when you demanded to have your money. However, the banks can do a little trick to turn a liability into an asset: It's called the money multiplier.

Banks only need to keep about 5% - or less - of the money that's deposited with them. So the bank can lend out £9,500 of your £10,000.

Then what happens?

Well, that £9,500 comes back into the bank in the form of a deposit. Let's say that our bank is paying a very generous 0.25% interest on their deposits. So, the bank has a £10,000 liability on one side of its balance sheet and a £9,500 asset - in the form of a loan - on the other side of its balance sheet, plus £500 in its reserve account. The loan brings in interest of 20% and the deposit attracts interest at 0.25%. The net monthly income for the bank is therefore £158.33 and the net monthly cost of interest payments is £19.79, yielding a very healthy £138.54 of profit every month for doing nothing.

So that's almost £140 profit every single month - £1,662 per annum - for doing absolutely nothing! But the best part is that it doesn't end there.

Because the bank now has a deposit of £9,500 it can now lend 95% of that. The bank can lend £9,025, making sure it keeps 5% in its reserves. The bank then has assets of £18,525, liabilities of £19,500 and reserves of £975. Somehow £18,525 has appeared out of nowhere.

The two loans yield £3,705 a year, while the deposits only attract interest of £463, giving a net annual profit of £3,242.

Three thousand quid a year for doing nothing!!

Yes.

That's right.

But it doesn't end there.

The bank keeps on lending money that it doesn't have.

A loan of £8,574, a loan of £8,145, a loan of £7,737, a loan of £7,351, a loan of £6,983... and so on.

Eventually, the bank has made loans of nearly £190,000 from an initial deposit of only £10,000. The bank also has deposits of almost £200,000, but these attract very little interest. The annual interest payable on the loans is £38,000 and the interest payable on the deposits is only £5,000, so the bank has an annual profit of £33,000 for doing nothing.

Now what?

Well that person still wants to buy that house so the bank is going to need some money. Where's it going to get the money? Well, no problem - it will borrow it from the central bank.

The central bank will want some collateral as security against the loan, but that's no problem because the bank has assets of almost £190,000 worth of loans bringing in £38,000 of anuual income, so it's clearly a creditworthy institution. The central bank is happy to lend the bank £90,000 at interest of 0.5%. The bank can then use that money to buy the house, which it adds to its balance sheet as an asset.

Now the bank owns a loan book of £190,000 worth of loans, cash reserves of almost £10,000 and a house valued at £100,000. It's very important to note that the person who wanted to buy the house does not own the house - it's the bank's property!

The bank now signs a mortgage contract with the house buyer for 25 years at 5% annual interest for a loan of £90,000. This loan will yield £4,500 per annum in interest payments for the bank, but it only costs the bank £450 a year in interest which it has to pay to the central bank, netting it a profit of £4,050 per annum, in addition to the £33,000 of other profit it makes from its loan book.

Now the bank is making a total annual profit of £37,050 and they are doing nothing.

Nothing.

Meanwhile, the person who bought the house needs to earn at least £6,312 a year to pay their mortgage. The person who bought the house no longer has the £10,000 they saved up. The person who bought the house has not only handed over their savings and committed themselves to having to pay a large amount of money every month... now they have to go and get a job from the capitalists or else they're going to be homeless! Remember, the bank owns the house, not the person who pays the mortgage - the witless idiot is now enslaved by capitalism.

Also, there are more than 100 people who took out loans, credit cards, overdrafts, store cards and other forms of unsecured personal debt, who now have to work hard to pay off the loans at 20% interest. People have become indebted by an additional £190,000 because one person wanted to buy a house, but they didn't realise they were going to get conned along with the rest of working-class society.

The magic trick that gets used by the banks is called fractional-reserve banking, which it allows a very small group of capitalists who have a banking license to economically enslave the whole of society in debt-based indentured servitude.

When loans are necessary to purchase basic survival needs - such as shelter - then there's no other word for it except for slavery. Shelter is not a luxury. Shelter is not an optional nice-to-have.

Insecurity about our shelter drives us into the open arms of the exploitative capitalists, who benefit doubly, because they earn money from us in the form of interest on loans and mortgages, and they have us right where they want us as an insecure workforce who desperately need to keep our regular income lest we be evicted and have our homes repossessed. The workers own nothing and the capitalists own everything. The rentier class have all of the wealth and do none of the work. Capitalism is the greatest crime ever perpetrated on humanity.

I hope you've been able to follow along the basic maths, and you can see how rigged the game is. It's quite simple to explain this horrific scam.

 

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Universal Basic Income

7 min read

This is a story about late capitalism...

Bank notes

Having been part of the JPMorgan team who built a system to process more than a quadrillion dollars of credit default swaps per annum, and also the system to find out who was holding the pass-the-parcel when the music stopped, only to discover it was full of dog shit, I feel pretty responsible for the credit crunch and financial crisis, which has plunged us into a global recession many times worse than the Great Depression of the 1930s. I'm pretty disillusioned with capitalism.

I've had front-row seats for most of the insanity of the past 25 years - dot com, Y2K, 9/11, credit crunch, financial crisis of 2007/8, Bitcoin etc. etc. - and I was a fully paid-up subscribing member of the 2% profiting handsomely from others' misfortune with my snout deep in the trough.

By 2008 I was sickened by the way I'd turned a blind eye and ignored my moral compass, because I enjoyed the wealth and privilege. I was able to buy a house, a yacht, a speedboat, sportscars and go on enough luxury holidays to help me set aside my misgivings about what the investment banks were doing to the global economy, by creating fabricated securities such as derivatives, which were somehow valued at a vastly greater sum of money than the aggregate value of all the precious metals, gems, land, property, cattle, food, commodities, industrial plant, machinery, companies and cash that exists on the whole planet. I was shackled with golden handcuffs - who in their right mind would give up their trophy wife and pull their kids out of private school, to slum it with the hoi polloi?

I decided that I was sickened by the bullshit synthetic world of digital securities and digital bank balances, and the global computer network with all its software and data, which actually doesn't create anything real or tangible. It seemed like the infamous tulip speculation bubble in the Netherlands during the 1600s. It seemed like utter insanity to place so much importance on a bunch of binary ones and zeros which exist nowhere but as a tiny magnetic bump on a disk platter, an electron in a memory chip or a photon in a fibre optic cable. The entire weight of the internet is estimated to be about the same as a golf ball, if you add up all the electrons. It's madness to think that any of our digital scorekeeping - i.e. your bank balance - will matter at all when global warming really starts to bite.

I quit my investment banking IT job at JPMorgan and I retrained as an electrician. I wanted to build real and tangible things with my hands. I wanted to learn a trade which couldn't be outsourced or automated. I wanted to escape the virtual realm of high finance and software and into a field which could make a real difference in people's lives. Try living for a day without your lighting, heating, hot water, power shower, cooker, dishwasher, washing machine, tumble dryer, kettle, toaster, fridge, freezer and the myriad other electrical appliances which you don't even notice are there in your life, saving you untold time and physical labour.

It turns out, we don't value tradesmen as much as we value bankers.

I could've scraped a living, but it was hard work with little reward. The work was dangerous and dirty and the general public expected to get everything for virtually nothing. I didn't much fancy working my whole life with the threat of bankruptcy and my home being repossessed, never having enough spare money to enjoy what little leisure time I had. Economically, it wasn't viable to be a tradesman, except as a kind of break-even hobby. It made no economic sense to use 100% of my brains and brawn, but receive so little reward.

Subsequently, I've returned to making software systems for banks, doing so as a consultant and getting paid even more. I've been a leech on a leech, and the cash has poured in.

Throughout this journey my priorities have completely changed. Instead of aspiring to acquire and accumulate vastly more than I would ever need, and fantasising about buying bigger and better houses, yachts and other material possessions, my fantasies have taken on a completely different guise.

I've been fantasising about quitting the rat race, and having secure housing. I've been fantasising about having enough money to read books and write. I've been fantasising about having time and being free from the tyranny of the alarm clock and bullshit jobs.

I'd live in a Soviet-style apartment and have beige products - no consumer choice - if I could be intellectually free. I'd travel on the bus and give up exotic foreign holidays if I no longer had to play along with the charade of late-capitalism, where we are all commuting too far, working too many hours, and living under constant threat of losing our jobs, losing our homes and subsequently being made destitute. Given the choice, I choose equality of outcome, not equality of opportunity.

It seems pretty obvious that the equal opportunities experiment has run its course and it would be inhumane to continue. Free markets are efficient, but they are only efficient at stripping away people's security, happiness, dignity and any hope of ever feeling content or satisfied. Capitalism is - by its very nature - a force which will price gouge humanity for the basic essentials, such as food, housing, transport, healthcare, medicine and to some extent education.

Our poorest 50% struggle to afford the basics, while even the very rich are miserably struggling to attain the academic qualifications which will allow them to compete, lest they be trampled by the struggling masses, desperate to realise their opportunities. The competitive element of capitalism has turned us into slaves. Our lives our wretched and appalling.

I desperately want to drop out of the rat race, but to do so would see me persecuted. I wouldn't even be allowed to sleep rough and beg for food without being arrested and locked up. Society offers me no ability to house, feed and clothe myself, with any degree of security or quality of life. Working a zero-hours contract McJob is not going to earn me enough to pay rent and bills, buy food, travel to work and have any kind of life worth living. The theft of our time and freedom is an awful crime perpetrated against most of society. The chance to stop and smell the roses is denied to us when we do not have secure food and housing.

The only viable solution that I can see is universal basic income (UBI). I just don't see how else we're going to be able to stop the terrible decline in living standards and save humanity from the tyranny of exploitation by the capitalists. It seems like we're at breaking point when even the middle class children are becoming slaves to the capitalists, with enormous loans for their education, which might win them a low-paid job in a completely unrelated field from their university degree if they're lucky - the unlucky ones end up unemployed.

It's a sad state of affairs when our fantasies revolve around basic needs, such as secure housing.

It's not my idea of a good time, sitting at home smoking cannabis and playing computer games, but I don't see any reason why it's not morally acceptable or right to allow people to do that, and not threaten them with homelessness and starvation if they don't get a bullshit McJob and otherwise comply with the tyranny of late-capitalism.

The idea that we live in a land of opportunity and that hard work will bring rewards has been proven to be a lie, and ever more-so during each passing year. It's time to let people live lives of quiet dignity, rather than frantic futile desperation.

It's time to just give everybody enough money to live in peace.

 

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Short & Sweet

11 min read

This is a story about burnout...

Graffitti

There's a lie which we're all guilty of perpetuating: Work hard and you can improve your life; if you work hard enough you can achieve anything. It's not true and it's wicked to repeat the lie, because we end up blaming ourselves for our appalling living conditions. "If only I'd tried harder in school" so many of us wail, but "if only I worked harder" is not something that a dying person ever says on their deathbed.

It's obvious that there's a grotesque disparity between hard work, dedication, passion, productivity and personal wealth. If you're going to try and argue that the owner of a large property portfolio works harder than a nurse, then you deserve a punch in the face. If you believe that the beneficiary of a trust fund, who doesn't have to work at all, is somehow more deserving than the person who cleans toilets for a living, then you must be suffering from psychosis.

I've heard it said that life is fair, because it's unfair to everybody. Human afflictions don't care whether you're rich or poor - a billionaire still needs an ambulance and a cardiac surgeon if they have a heart problem, and money can't buy them immortality. However, this does not seem to consider the great injustice of the world: that our efforts and actions will make virtually no difference at all. It doesn't matter how badly you want to study at Oxbridge and enter a lucrative profession - if you were born into the wrong socioeconomic circumstances, you're not going to be able to achieve your potential. It doesn't matter how badly you want to elevate yourself from poverty, and how hard you work - you're trapped and you'll never escape.

The media love to shove folklore heroes in our face. The media work very hard to assist our willing suspension of disbelief. Little girls think they're going to be like Kate Middleton and marry a prince - the tale that we're told is that she's an ordinary girl and that any one of us could be plucked out of poverty, but it's bullshit... she went to a very expensive private school. Little boys think they're going to become 'self-made' men, and there are plenty of examples of entrepreneurs who claim to have not received any assistance in building their business empires, except that close scrutiny reveals that they had their risk underwritten by friends and family; they have access to wealth and connections that ordinary people don't.

You show me the success story and I'll show you the unfair advantages that the person enjoyed. Nobody got to the top on merit. Nobody gets anywhere by working hard - it's a lie.

In fact, to work hard and assume that it's going to lead to pay rises and promotions is a kind of mental illness: it's called "Tiara Syndrome". It's a bit like the fantasy of a knight in shining armour coming to rescue us - a person who has Tiara Syndrome is expecting that somebody will come along and put a tiara on their head, just because they work really hard and they're good at their job. Sadly, it doesn't happen.

Behind every fortune is a great crime. The only way to get ahead in life is to lie, cheat and steal.

"The power of enclosing land and owning property was brought into the creation by your ancestors by the sword; which first did murder their fellow creatures, men, and after plunder or steal away their land, and left this land successively to you, their children. And therefore, though you did not kill or thieve, yet you hold that cursed thing in your hand by the power of the sword; and so you justify the wicked deeds of your fathers, and that sin of your fathers shall be visited upon the head of you and your children to the third and fourth generation, and longer too, till your bloody and thieving power be rooted out of the land"

A Declaration from the Poor Oppressed People of England (1649)

So, if we've been writing about this problem for the best part of 400 years, things must be alright, mustn't they? Don't fix what ain't broke and all that. Why rock the boat?

Life expectancies are starting to fall - people are dying younger. There's a mental health epidemic. There's an opioid epidemic. Living standards are declining. Billions of people live in poverty, and within our lifetime we'll witness a Malthusian catastrophe that will dwarf any other mass extinction event seen on planet earth. If you thought the Ethiopian famine was bad, wait until you see what the next few decades have got in store for us. With high-yield modern mechanised farming techniques, we have plenty of food, but we are staggeringly bad at sharing things fairly. If you believe that the present situation of wealth disparity is acceptable, then you're signing the death warrant for billions of people - a holocaust knowingly perpetrated on the human race, for no better reason than sheer unadulterated greed.

Remember that none of the Nazis were allowed to say "I was just following orders" as any kind of defence. To fail to act and to say that you're just doing what everyone else is doing, is immoral. To be passive and turn a blind eye, or to throw up your hands and say "there's nothing I can do" is not acceptable. Yes, it's our instinct to look after our own families, but the day is coming when that selfishness will backfire. Your kids are going to need a place to live. Your kids are going to end up in debt. Your kids are facing a shitty future, and your grandkids are going to inherit a completely hopelessly screwed situation - do you think they'll agree with you, that it was right that you sat back and did nothing?

If you think you're helping your kids by instilling some kind of 'work ethic' in them and getting them to study hard, you're making a mistake. Remember: nobody ever got anywhere by working hard. Hard work can be a useful thing, but we must consider what our labour is being used for - if it's making weapons and oppressing people, then hard work is immoral when it contributes to the war on humanity. Sometimes the best thing to do is to withhold labour - to deprive the tyrants of the manpower they need to conquer and achieve world domination. Sometimes the best thing to do is conscientiously object; to nonviolently protest.

I've thought long and hard about how I can make a difference. I thought about medicine. I thought about law. I thought about politics. I thought about science and engineering. I find myself in technology, and I'm desperately disappointed. No amount of smartphone apps and websites is going to address the problems at the root cause, which appears to be competition. Why must there be competition? Why do we have to measure and grade people, and declare that some of us are not worthy of consideration? Why do we have artificial scarcity and force people to fight over an artificially limited amount of so-called 'money'? Why do we put artificial limits on the numbers of people who can pursue a certain professional discipline? Why do we want to have elitism? Why do 99% have to be told they're shit and they don't matter and they're expendable, so that the 1% can feel special?

I was on the fast-track. I was made unconditional university offers and allowed to skip entire academic years. I got onto a graduate training program 3 years sooner than any of my peers. I got pay rises and promotions so quickly that I was earning six-figures by the age of 20. I'm an example of one of those success stories that you might read about, that are supposed to make you believe that with enough hard work anyone can reach the top of the pyramid - be a CEO or a prime minister or a president, or a king or queen. It's bullshit. Why would I turn on the system that's given me everything I've ever wanted? Why would I bite the hand that feeds me?

No amount of houses, sports cars, yachts, speed boats, luxury holidays and all the other trimmings of a wealthy life can ever make you quite feel like you're content with the way things are, because you can never fully insulate yourself from the suffering and poverty that surrounds us. The fact that you're reading this on a PC, laptop, tablet or smartphone, means that you're one of the lucky ones - you're somewhere that has electricity and the internet, which means there's probably clean drinking water too. If you think about those less fortunate than yourself, they're probably considerably well below your standard of living. Wherever you are in the pecking order, there's always some unfortunate who's desperately in need of help, because we've set up society to fail people - the very process of succeeding ourselves means trampling others underfoot to get ahead in life. It's a zero sum game - for somebody to win, there has to be a loser.

Life doesn't have to be like this - so adversarial. There's no limit on the number of "A" grades we can give out, or the amount of money we can print. There's no limit on the number of doctors we can have. We live in a world that's been artificially constrained to create winners and losers. There's no need to have competition so inbuilt to society. Yes, we might see that nature is full of competition - survival of the fittest - but we're not beasts. We've become super-intelligent and capable of producing vast surpluses of everything we need. With high-yield farming techniques and agricultural mechanisation, we can feed ourselves until we burst. With mass production and factories, we can have a virtually unlimited amount of goods - clothes and shoes and building materials, as well as pointless consumer crap that we arguably don't need.

Like the many utopians who I studied while doing the research for my second novel, I can see a world that's jam-packed with all the technology that we need to improve the human condition, and elevate half the planet out of poverty. I can see that we already possess everything we need - we don't need nuclear fusion or flying cars or any other sci-fi fantasies... we already have the means at our disposal, to improve our lives.

As a person who wants to make a positive difference - to effect meaningful change - I find it very distressing that those who are working very hard to improve the world are being thwarted. Imagine all the effort put in by doctors, nurses, politicians, charity workers and myriad others who do what they do because they want to make the world a better place... but it's not working, is it? The world is getting steadily more and more fucked up.

If you think I'm seeing the world through a 'blue filter' and my depression tinges my perceptions, we only need to look at the hard data - homelessness, depression, anxiety, alcoholism, drug addiction, poverty, crime and all the other indicators we have of the health of our society are telling the same story: Things are getting worse, not better. Your kids will have to get into heaps of debt to obtain their education, and then they won't be able to afford to buy a house. Your kids are going to struggle to find work. Your kids are going to struggle, full stop. Your grandkids are absolutely fucked. It doesn't take a genius to extrapolate from the data and see where we're headed. Things aren't just going to magically improve without anybody doing anything. Don't look to politicians to cure society's problems. Don't look to charity to cure society's problems. Don't look to the church to cure society's problems. If any of the existing status quo members were going to do something to fix things, they'd have done it at some point in the last 400 years, wouldn't they?

I haven't figured out what I'm going to do yet, but the best "not in my name" protest I can think of is to kill myself. The best way I can think of to register my objection with the status quo, is to end my life.

Maybe I have a lemming-like instinct to kill myself because of overpopulation. Perhaps my genes are telling me to kill myself for the good of the species. Certainly the self-preservation instinct feels much weaker than the powerful emotions that tear through me, thinking about the futility of the oft-tried ways of making a difference.

If there's no opportunity to make a meaningful contribution, why go on?

 

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High Availability

6 min read

This is a story about keeping the lights on...

Bright city lights

There used to be a time, not so long ago, when banks were closed at weekends and on bank holidays, and the only way to do financial transactions was with cash, or otherwise with cheques that used to take 3 working days to clear and could 'bounce'. Today, we can do credit and debit card transactions 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Today money flows across the globe in the blink of an eye - pay for some sunglasses in Singapore and your current account will be immediately debited back home here in the UK.

There used to be a time, not so long ago, when getting online meant phoning up another computer. We weren't online all the time - we'd connect once in a while to check our emails, but the rest of the time our telephone line had to be left free so that people could call us. Likewise, computers weren't always available to be connected to - the dial-up number might be engaged because somebody else was connected, or maybe the computer would be switched off or having maintenance done to it. Today, you can access websites 24 x 7 x 365 and you'll never see a message that says the service you're trying to access is offline because of maintenance or some kind of problem. That's what "high availability" means.

So, did we stop turning off the computers, or install some more phone lines or something? Did we get rid of the need to upgrade and do maintenance on the computers? Are the days of engineers having to take a service offline now gone? From a consumer's point of view, that's certainly the way it appears.

In a post 9/11 world, disaster recovery is seen as an essential requirement for business. A terrorist organisation could blow up the headquarters of your bank, but to you as the customer, the computer systems have been designed so that things should function just like normal - business as usual as far as you're concerned. Does that mean that computers are now bombproof? From a consumer's point of view, it certainly seems to be the case.

The reality is that behind the scenes there is a lot of redundancy and failover design so that if anything catastrophic happens, other parts of the system can take over from the parts that have failed. If a computer blows up, another one immediately takes over its work, seamlessly. If a hard disk fails, the data has been copied across a bunch of other ones so no information is ever lost. Software is designed so that it can be upgraded without the users even realising that it's happened - you get new features on the websites you use all the time, but you never notice any interruption in the service. That's high availability in action.

Behind the scenes, there's an army of developers, testers, devops, support analysts, network engineers, sysadmins, database administrators and other flavours of infrastructure engineers, who keep things running smoothly. To keep you plugged into the digital world 24 hours a day, allowing you to send and receive emails, text messages and naughty photos whenever you want, a huge stack of systems have been designed, built and maintained with the principle that they must be "always online". It's a bit like repairing a broken-down car while it's still driving down the road at 100mph.

The net result is that the main skill in IT is not creating the hardware and software anymore, but in keeping the lights on all the time - 100% uptime. Teams of people work in shifts around the clock just waiting for something to go wrong so that they can spring into action and fix it, even though faults are not fatal to the overall functioning of the system, and the users won't even notice that there's been a problem. Computers still fail and hardware still needs replacing. Things need upgrading; things need maintaining, but it all happens without anybody ever seeing a message that says "SERVICE NOT AVAILABLE".

Personally, I do not enjoy sitting waiting for something to go wrong. I'm currently working for a team whose role is to keep the lights on, and it got briefly exciting when the air conditioning failed and a whole datacentre shut itself down, but that was the briefest possible thrill. I'm like a firefighter in this modern world where modern fabrics, improved electrical safety and central heating systems mean that fire is an increasingly rare occurrence in the domestic home. I'm built to fight fires, but everything's built to be so resilient. There are no crises that demand heroics anymore.

I'm pretty much in the wrong job. I deal with machines all day long but I want to deal with people. I'm bored but banking is supposed to be boring - when it gets exciting it means stock market crashes and people not getting paid. I need variety but once you've grasped how to build a computer system, they're all the same - I've built everything from torpedo guidance on nuclear submarines, to bus ticket machines and iPhone apps, and it's all built exactly the same way. I am devastatingly depressed about my job. I think banking is 99% evil, with only 1% of it having anything to do with keeping people's wealth safe from robbers or facilitating transactions that are easier than barter. I need to be solving problems, but I've already solved the same ones a million times, and if I do a good job upfront then there aren't many to solve anyway. It's a dismal existence.

So, I sit at my desk and I get paid an obscene amount of money for doing nothing, just in case something goes wrong... which it very rarely does. I'm highly available, but like a disaster recovery site, hopefully I never have to spring into action, because things are really bad if I'm put to good use. It's really horrible, sitting and waiting for something terrible to happen, and really wanting a crisis to develop because I'm so bored and under-utilised.

I really need to find some kind of app which serves some kind of societal function, beyond stupid distractions from the point of living. Surely the point of living is to spend our brief time on this earth with our family and friends, eating, drinking and making merry, not chasing money and other made-up bullshit.

 

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