This is a story about feeling vindictive...
Several nights this week I've stayed up late. I am usually very strict with my bedtimes and routine, but when some major stressor triggers an episode of mania, I struggle to stop working on whatever particular thing has obsessed me, at any particular moment. I feel as though I have spare brain capacity with which to use for a whole range of projects, virtually simultaneously. I feel as though I'm close to making a breakthrough, and with just a little more effort, I will have achieved something great.
There is some truth to what I am saying, but there is also the thing that I didn't mention: What goes up must come down. You have to pay to play.
My attempts to automate the harvesting and analysis of data from Twitter has been reasonably successful. I have managed to extract and store a significant amount of useful information, which could be analysed. The achievement is no small one, considering that I had zero knowledge of any of the technologies involved, nor did I have approval to use Twitter's developer API, which I'd never seen before. Since Sunday, I have written code which can rummage through Twitter's data and find what I want, in order to then gain the insights I want. Obviously, I also got my code to Tweet "hello world" as well as send some messages to a group of special people. Not bad, considering I had to learn a whole bunch of stuff before I could actually start building stuff.
My attempts to stay in touch with a number of friends, and to also start letting friends know that they can [and should] come visit me in my new house, have been time consuming, but incredibly worthwhile, because I'm now in touch with lots of friends - old and new - and that makes me feel very loved and cared for, during a week following a break-up, when I might perhaps have been at risk of feeling somewhat isolated and lonely. Not bad, considering that only two friends have ever made the trip from England to Wales to see me, during the whole 17 months that I've lived here. That's a long time, especially considering how few friends I've managed to make locally. I live a very reclusive life, but not particularly through choice.
My attempts to impress my colleagues and make myself useful at work have been hit-and-miss. A sense of humour driven by mania is not well matched with an open-plan office full of fine upstanding members of the community who are very quiet and mild-mannered. I made a dreadful misjudgement, which caused some upset to a very senior person, but then something else I did was recognised as really valuable, so perhaps the good and the bad cancelled each other out. I still have a job, for now.
My attempts to write something interesting and entertaining - with my usual unflinching honesty - turned into manic rants, some of which were approaching 2,000 word impenetrable essays about nothing in particular. My 'excess' energy was ploughed into writing, but I can't say that I achieved much except for maintaining my daily writing habit, which is an achievement in and of itself, not to be dismissed lightly.
My attempts to prepare for moving house were particularly demanding. Mail redirection, changing the address for several bank accounts and other financial services, arranging broadband internet installation, ordering furniture to be delivered, arranging a van to transport my belongings, boxing up my stuff, signing contracts, paying various huge sums of money to various people and keeping my current rented place tidy so that new prospective tenants can be shown around, has been an arduous task. However, my ducks are almost all lined up.
Then, there were the very many things which I became briefly obsessed about, but were a complete waste of time and effort. I was inventing jokes about theoretical physics. I was making a playlist of all the 80s synth-inspired music that I like. I was writing long ranting Facebook posts about the anti-Semitism accusations flying within the Labour party, and about the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's definition of anti-Semitism.
I was chatting with some people who are massive fans of my favourite musical artist - Fear of Tigers - and there was an album that they were trying to download, but they were having problems. Me, being 'a little bit technical' decided that I would take a look, and quickly discovered that the website is simply purporting to have content to Google's crawler bots, which is actually untrue - the content does not exist. Angered by this honeypot, which is designed to get unsuspecting and non-technical internet users to give their name, date of birth, email address and home address, it then tries to trick the user into doing a number of other things, all of which would result in some remuneration for the owner and operator of the honeypot - the "ultimate beneficial owner" to use the legal term.
Angered by the injustice of would-be music pirates being misled by this honeypot, I decided that it would not be unethical to probe this fraudulent website for any vulnerabilities. I quickly found a couple, which I have set about the task of attacking by brute-force, in order to sabotage the fraudulent site and troll whoever set it up. I had the theoretical knowledge of how I might go about this, but it felt suddenly very important to me to learn the skills of a highly-experienced and sought-after internet security engineer (known as a pen-tester - i.e. penetration tester) or perhaps one might argue, the skills of a white-hat hacker.
Given my propensity for never abandoning tasks until I feel I have completed them to my satisfaction, I would not be surprised if my current attempt to use the most common 13,000 passwords found on the internet to break into the target server, would escalate to a full-on distributed attack to exhaust ALL possible passwords until finally I 'crack the safe' and I can then set about my act of supposedly ethical sabotage.
It's rare that I pause and think "should I stop" and even when it seems very obvious that to continue further would be inadvisable and entirely pointless, I continue, for unknown reasons. It must be something about my personality and upbringing. I particularly relish problems which are generally declared as "so hard" that they're equated with being impossible, which is untrue. Some of the very hard things I've achieved have had surprisingly positive unanticipated consequences, such as giving my life new meaning, purpose, and skills that have later turned out to be incredibly valuable.
If you imagine a lonely isolated child who's been given a hugely complicated task - perhaps even no task at all - but has a huge number of tools at their disposal and lots of raw materials, by trial-and-error that child might create something... perhaps because of sheer boredom. As that trial-and-error learning technique becomes more innate, those tools and those materials start to become understood to that child, in a way that no teacher could teach. If you can self-direct your own learning and you have developed the attitude required to keep trying and failing, but carrying on regardless, then eventually you can start to finish projects that you started, no matter how hard they seemed when they were first conceived of.
What I'm doing could be considered a vindictive vendetta, based on the false premise that the person who set up this devious honeypot 'deserves' to have a person like me vandalise it, because it's become an absurd crusade. Not a moral crusade, but a crusade against the technology that's been put in place to stop mindless vandals from doing what I'm attempting to do: To crack the security that's there to prevent total anarchy on the internet, where somebody with a grudge could cause damage to whatever they wanted, very easily.
What I'm doing is not easy. It's hard. That's more the reason why I'm doing it than any other reason, even though that reason doesn't make sense.
It was hard to get where I am, so it makes no sense to stop doing hard things. In fact, when I'm stressed I actively seek hard problems, which is why I'm always drawn back to things like theoretical physics when I'm suffering from stress-induced mania.
It seems unlikely that my knowledge of theoretical physics will ever be of any use in my everyday life, but a lot of the side projects I've busied myself in this week have very real tangible benefits, although I suppose I could technically find myself being extradited to the United States to face charges of computer trespass or some other vague and nebulous bit of US law that I've fallen afoul of, depending on whose parade I'm pissing on and how far they're prepared to to to get me back.
One thing I would advise you though: Don't get on the wrong side of the geeks, because they're the ones who look after that folder of photos you sent to your lover, which you think is well-protected. The geeks are the ones who look after all those messages you send to the person you're having an affair with. The geeks are the ones who know the most about the dark side of human nature, because the geeks suddenly got put in charge of keeping everyone's secrets. When people think they're doing stuff in private, they act very differently. When people think they're protected they do things they'd never dream of doing without the protection they assume that they have.
I like to think I'm a good person, but I'm also an unusual person. Sometimes I do stuff just to see if I can do it. Sometimes, I take things too far, but I find it hard to stop because I'm a completer-finisher, and sometimes I have to dismantle a huge complex piece of apparatus, to satisfy a mere curiosity, when in actual fact I'm terrifying the hell out of a whole bunch of people who like to believe that their barriers are impregnable. It's disturbing for society to have its incorrect notions of concepts like privacy and secrecy, openly challenged.
We feel safe, searching for whatever we want via Google. We click "private browsing" buttons that give us an extra sense of reassurance that we are entering a "safe space" where we are completely anonymous, and our privacy and secrecy is guaranteed.
Whatever contact you and your personal data have had with digital devices, you can assume that it's as good as public knowledge, I'm afraid. If somebody is determined enough, they will walk right through every barrier that supposedly exists to protect you and your privacy. If somebody is determined enough, your secrets will be known, if you've been so foolish as to let them leave your brain.