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I'm a writer. I write about life with bipolar disorder - also known as manic depression - so my eponymous alter ego is MaNic Grant.

I've written more than 1 million words: it's the world's longest suicide note.

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nick@manicgrant.com

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Managing Bipolar Without Medication

11 min read

This is a story about personal responsibility...

Handful of pills

I often like to think that I'm 'cured' of bipolar, but the reality is that I can have incredibly functional periods, where it certainly appears to the outside observer as if I'm perfectly healthy. However, the stability of my life - and my mood - is not due to having received treatment, nor is it accident or pure good luck. There are a lot of choices, deliberately made, which keep me functional.

We must accept that whether I'm functional or not, I do experience a mood disorder: bipolar. I can be suicidally depressed but working productively at my desk, with my colleagues blissfully ignorant of my distress and the danger to my life. I can be fighting to control my hypomania with every fibre of my being, desperate to unleash the 'high' episode and experience a period of incredible creativity and productivity, but I know that my colleagues would bear the brunt of my irritability, and their suspicions would be raised by my fast speech and general intensity... I would be told to go home; I would be told I'm working too hard, and I would ignore them, only to subsequently crash.

I'm prone to taking huge risks. I'm prone to depressions that leave me unable to leave my bed or face the world for long periods. I'm prone to hypomanic episodes where I take on ridiculously huge projects, and somehow manage to complete them, but at great expense to my health and stability.

Nobody could say that I don't have to be aware of my bipolar disorder at all times, because it always threatens to plunge me into suicidal depression, or make my hypomanically high - neither state is compatible with a regular 9 to 5 Monday to Friday office job.

Luckily, nobody employs me because I'm a slow and steady guy; nobody employs me because I plod along doing nothing much in particular, keeping a low profile. The reason why I get employed is because I get stuff done. I get a lot of stuff done. I get things done that people say couldn't be done. Then, one day "I can't even" as the kids say. Yep. That's a complete sentence. I can't even finish a sentence properly when I'm having one of those episodes. I become dysfunctional if I don't manage my illness. There's no denying that I'm unwell when I get so sick I can't leave my bed, answer my phone or send an email: I go AWOL.

For years I struggled with the different episodes. I allowed too much of my hypomania to be conspicuously visible in the office. I allowed too much of my depression to overspill from my private life. I was in the office when I shouldn't have been and I wasn't in the office when I should have been. I allowed my mood to dictate my behaviour, as so many of us do, because it's virtually impossible to behave otherwise.

I tried being my own boss, so I could work as hard as I wanted when I was hypomanic, and sleep as much as I needed when I was depressed. Things got worse, not better. I tried tablets. I tried so many tablets. Things got worse. Things got so much worse and I became so dysfunctional that my life fell apart, but nobody believed me. I was sleeping rough in Kensington Palace Gardens - a complete mess - but because I sound posh and intelligent, and I've had a great career, nobody believed that I was losing my battle with my mental illness, and I was incredibly vulnerable. I desperately needed help, but to outside observers, I seemed to have some semblance of the self-reliance I'd always had... everyone assumed that I was as competent and capable as I'd ever been, and that I could take care of myself.

Things got very bad. I was hospitalised several times, both for medical emergencies due to physical health problems which threatened my life, and for the seemingly unending mental health crisis I was suffering. The fact I was alive was taken as evidence of my resourceful nature and self-preservation instincts - my ability to be responsible for myself - but it's pure blind luck that I'm not dead, along with a heck of a lot of skill, effort and energy by a vast number of medical professionals, who've saved my life during various organ failures, seizures and generally near-fatal awfulness which took place in high dependency hospital wards and intensive treatment units.

Today, my life gives few clues about the journey to this point. I have two large scars on my legs and a tattoo behind my ear. The tattoo is something that any observant person might see, as a tiny clue that I've been though some pretty appalling stuff, but the scars are usually hidden beneath my clothes.

The length of time that I've spent working closely with a close-knit group of colleagues, and what we've achieved together as a team, is the basis for the impression that people have of me, along with my general demeanour. I'm lucky enough to have retained my full faculties and suffer no impairment due to the horrors of the past. My colleagues see a competent and capable individual who they have come to depend upon - they trust me and the seek out my opinion. In this sense, you could be forgiven for thinking me 'cured' of bipolar.

I'm hoping that I will stay in my new home city for a long time, and I will build an ever-increasing circle of friends, neighbours and other acquaintances, who see me going about my daily business; who have pleasant normal interactions with me. My existence is clearly no longer full of crises; I'm obviously much more stable than I was, and that stability has proven reasonably reliable.

None of this is an accident. None of this is pure chance.

I don't have any caffeine. I know that alcohol is bad for me, and I avoided it for months, which was very beneficial to my health. I try to sleep as much as possible - 10 or 12 hours a night whenever I can. I keep to a routine... I keep to a REALLY STRICT routine if I can. Mealtimes, when I get up, what I wear, what I eat, writing every day, quiet time before bed, glasses to filter out blue light, dietary supplements... these are some of the things that are working well. I know I need to exercise more and I know I need to get more natural light too. It would be healthy to have regular social contact with people outside work. It would be good if I had a local support network.

My job often bores me, but I put up with it. I'm often too depressed and anxious to get out of bed and go to the office but I force myself. I often find there's not enough time to watch films and documentaries, or do anything other than write, eat and get ready for bed, after work, but I'm trying to do more.

I've gotten tired. Really tired.

Last week was incredibly exhausting. Work was immensely stressful and demanding. Some relationship difficulties cause me to lose a lot of sleep, as well as being very emotionally demanding and stressful. I got a kitten, which has been extremely rewarding and exciting, but also a disruption to my delicate routine and an additional set of responsibilities.

Adrenalin has carried me through the past few weeks and I've managed to skip almost entire nights of sleep on several occasions, seemingly without consequence, but it's all caught up with me.

I haven't been looking after myself.

I've broken my rules.

I've broken the rules which keep me safe, healthy, secure and stable. I've broken the rules which have kept me functional for a very long period of time. I've broken the rules which I invented to end the crises and the dangerous highs and lows. I've broken the rules and I've paid the price.

I'm not sick but I'm not well.

I underestimated the damage it would do to my health, drinking too much and staying up all night. I overestimated my ability to cope with extra stress and big changes. Suddenly I have a girlfriend and a kitten, where previously I had nothing but a big empty house. My life is immensely more pleasant and enjoyable, but it's also suddenly become incredibly fragile. I'm suffering bouts of insecurity and occasional outbursts of frustration that my comfortable stable security and safety margin of spare energy has been exhausted, leaving me irritable and impatient.

It's my responsibility to make sure that I'm getting enough sleep. There aren't enough hours in the day, but I can take some holiday. I've worked non-stop since I got home from Mexico at the start of January. Nobody can work so hard, move house, get a girlfriend, furnish a home and get a kitten, without having a holiday. I've been relentless. I've acted as if I've got limitless energy and a superhuman ability to achieve impossible feats at incredible speed. To all intents and purposes, I've pulled off almost everything, but the cracks are showing - I'm heading for disaster.

Whether I've already gone too far, allowing myself to become too tired and letting myself become unwell, remains to be seen. I was irritable and unpleasant last night, and there might be consequences. Who knows what damage I've done?

I'm going to sleep until lunchtime tomorrow. I'm going to recharge my batteries.

I know that a few extra hours sleep is not enough. I need a whole week of lie-ins. I need a whole week of afternoon naps. I need at least a whole week of being free from the relentless demands which I've faced this year. I desperately need another holiday. I've left it too long, as usual, but I hate going away on my own.

That's another part of the non-pharmaceutical treatment for my bipolar disorder: holidays. I genuinely need holidays for the sake of my health, but when my life was chaotic I would work as hard as I could for as long as I could when I was well, because I felt so much pressure to earn as much money as possible, to support me during episodes of illness. I've come to realise that it's incredibly unhealthy to have 6, 9, 12 and even 18 months without a proper holiday. I need a week away. I need a week of rest and relaxation, and ideally that would be with my girlfriend, if I haven't p*ssed her off and upset her with my unstable mood already.

I wonder if I'll make it - last long enough - to be able to go away on a nice holiday to recharge my batteries. I think that I need to start taking evasive action immediately. I need to be strict with my bedtime. I need to be strict with alcohol. I need to take some mornings off work to catch up on sleep. It might be advisable to take a whole week off and just do nothing for the sake of my health. I know that I've let my health get into a precarious state.

I haven't looked after myself and I need to act.

I could spend a week pottering around my lovely house, with my kitten to keep me company. I think my health would benefit significantly. I need to loosen my grip on my work. I need to relax. I need to rest and recuperate.

Burnout is not good. I'm so sick of burning out. I'm so sick of episodes of mood disorder. I can regain stability, but I need to recognise that I'm not well and I need to act immediately. Yes, I could cling on until the end of July for a holiday with my girlfriend, but there's a huge chance I could get really sick if I try to wait that long. I'm going to have to take some time off work, for health reasons, and it's not the end of the world.

I hope I write again soon that I did the sensible thing, and that I'm getting on top of managing my health. I hope to write that I'm regaining some safety margin, so that I can remain cool, calm and patient, and not be irritable and unpleasant. I hope to write that I'm treating my girlfriend nicely, not being an exhausted wreck, full of insecurity and instability.

I feel super bad that I've mismanaged my illness, but all I can do now is to try to look after myself.

 

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Summer's Here

4 min read

This is a story about unseasonably good weather...

Sun tan lotion

While my colleagues have been enjoying Easter holidays, it's been 4 months since I took some time off work. Having the long 4-day Easter weekend was very pleasant, and there are two more long weekends in May. The Easter bank holiday weekend was particularly nice because it was sunny and warm.

A friend asked if I'd like to join him and his family for a picnic in the park, which I thought was madness, given that we're still in April and the nights can be decidedly cold. However, it was very pleasantly warm, even as the sun started to go down.

During the daytime over the Easter weekend, it felt most summery indeed. My skin is pretty tolerant of the UK sun, so I didn't really need sun tan lotion, but I was able to wear flip-flops and sunglasses, with short sleeves, and it felt like summer.

Summer is my favourite time of year.

There are a number of juggling balls I've got midair at the moment. Work, house, relationships, friendships, money, car, bills and admin... the usual crap that almost everybody has to worry about. Somehow, I'm managing to keep all the plates spinning reasonably well at the moment, which bodes very well for having a good summer.

Last year, a catastrophic chain of events screwed up my job, my relationships, some friendships, and put my whole situation - regarding housing and finances - into jeopardy. I got very sick and I was worried I was going to lose everything: my life is fragile.

This year, my approach has been exactly the same: I'm working hard on an important IT project, I have a place to live which I like, dating is going well, I'm starting to make friends, my finances are in good shape - things are looking extremely promising, but I know how quickly everything can crumble.

Last year, I ended up snatching a couple of days away with a good friend - a boy's trip away - which was amazing, but my life had been destabilised and my future was uncertain. By the time the summer arrived, I didn't feel in a position to enjoy it at all, and in fact I hardly saw the sunshine at all. When a new job came along, I took it immediately and worked all summer, including the day of my birthday.

Although I have had a very good run of luck, including a fantastic holiday over the Christmas and New Year period, I feel like I would like to celebrate my achievements and hard work by going away on holiday for my birthday. It's a little extravagant and it's an avoidable expense, but I feel like it would be great to have a summer break, to recharge the batteries ready for the long slog through to the autumn.

Perhaps it's not necessary to go abroad. A staycation can be just as great as going overseas. In fact, the UK is fantastic if you're lucky with the weather. Certainly, the Easter bank holiday weekend felt like being on holiday in a country with a much better climate than our own fair shores.

I guess it's something to aim for; something a little bit more exciting than domestic purchases of boring things for around the house. It feels like a way of psychologically declaring 2019 to be "a good year" which is important to me, given the number of "bad years" I've had. It hasn't been since 2016 that things were going smoothly in my life, when I went away for a lovely holiday to celebrate my birthday.

There's something really nice about having a holiday when things are going well - to be settled at home, in a relationship, work going well, financially secure, social interaction and other things which make life bearable - is important if you're going to be able to relax and enjoy yourself.

My life is becoming increasingly good, especially considering how much I was struggling with stress and anxiety very recently. I was overwhelmed and too exhausted, depressed and anxious to think about doing nice things, but now the landscape is starting to look very different.

 

Of course, I must say that I'm very fortunate to be in the position that I'm in, and I'm trying not to feel "entitled" to things, but it's no accident that I'm in the situation I'm in - there has been hard work, struggle and suffering to endure, so I don't feel too guilty about planning a nice holiday for myself, to celebrate my birthday in July.

 

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Suddenly Everything is OK

5 min read

This is a story about overnight recovery...

Flip flops

One day you can't feel your leg. One day a leg is twice the size of the other one. One day your kidneys have stopped working. One day you're in agony from muscle and nerve damage caused by DVT. One day you're in hospital on dialysis and you're very sick. One day you're physically dependent on a medication which you've been buying on the black market, and you'll have seizures if you stop taking it. One day you're so addicted to a drug that you won't sleep, eat or drink, because you don't want to stop your binge for a single second. One day you're virtually bankrupt. One day you're homeless. One day you're jobless. One day your mental health is so bad that you're hearing voices, seeing things and you're paranoid about everybody and everything, to the point where you think even the person who loves you the most in the world is your enemy.

Then, overnight, you recover.

Overnight, all your physical health problems are cured.

Overnight, your mental health problems are cured.

Overnight, all your substance dependency - addiction - problems are solved.

Overnight, you have a house.

Overnight, you have a job.

Overnight, your debts are repaid.

Overnight, you have lots of money.

Nope.

Just nope.

I was rummaging in the boxes of stuff which managed to survive the chaotic years of my life and I found a pair of flip-flops with a piece of string tied to them. The string is there because I couldn't feel my foot and I couldn't control its movement - I couldn't walk properly. When I was walking in flip-flops, the left one would just fall off after ten or twenty steps, because I didn't have enough feeling in my toes to be able to 'grip' the flip-flop properly. The string was my improvised attempt to be able to wear my beloved flip-flops during some nice weather.

My attempt at using a piece of string to fix my inability to wear flip-flops was a lovely metaphor for the attempts I was making to solve all my problems, overnight.

That was two years ago.

Things got a lot worse before they got better.

Things were so bad that on the very worst day of my life, I woke up in an hospital intensive care ward, with a tube down my throat forcing air into my lungs, a tube up my nose and into my stomach, forcing activated charcoal and other things into me, 6 canulas all for pumping me full of various things, an arterial canula for measuring my blood pressure with incredible accuracy, plus I was attached to an 8-cable ECG machine, a clip on my finger measured my blood oxygen and I had been catheterised - I noticed that a tube coming out of my penis had been taped to the inside of my leg. The worst thing was that I was alive.

I did not want to be alive.

I had tried very hard not to be alive.

Physically I was alive, but I was still very sick - my kidneys and other organs had shut down and I had been in a coma - and I was also going through benzodiazepine withdrawal, which is both life-threatening and thoroughly unpleasant.

I was alive, but it turned out I didn't have a job or a home anymore.

I was single and without any friends. I was in a strange city where I didn't know anybody. I didn't have enough money to rent a place to live and support myself until I got my first paycheque. I was utterly screwed.

So, of course I still very much wanted to be dead.

Now, I have a nice house, full of nice things. I've made some friends and I've met some women. I go on dates. Sometimes those dates go really well. I have a job. I earn a lot of money. My finances are sorted out. I'm no longer addicted to drugs or physically dependent on medication. I hardly even drink - perhaps once a week, socially.

I can wear flip-flops.

Weirdly, the nerve damage repaired itself enough so that I have enough sensation in my foot to be able to wear flip-flops, run, go kitesurfing and do the other things I always used to do.

I don't know if I'm happy - there's still a lot of insecurity in my life; I live with an unacceptable amount of jeopardy for a person to have to suffer. I don't have enough friends in the local area. I don't have a girlfriend. I haven't established myself in my new home city. I've barely even started to unpack my stuff.

Compared with two years ago, my life does look like an overnight success. I'm good at my job and my colleagues are grateful for my contribution to the team and the project. The pieces of the puzzle are starting to fit together, and my life is beginning to look viable.

It's strange how people expect to be able to 'save' people who - on closer examination - have such a clusterf**k of issues that it's easy why some would think they're a "lost cause" and abandon them.

I'm grateful to that handful of people who didn't give up on me; who didn't write me off and abandon me.

 

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Reading Newspapers Makes Me Depressed

8 min read

This is a story about correlation and causation...

Headline

I read with interest that the number of prescriptions for antidepressants had skyrocketed to an all-time high in the United Kingdom. 70 million prescriptions were written for 65 million people, meaning that for the first time, there were more packets of pills dished out than there are men, women and children in the entire nation. Unlike Sweden where national records are held, which allow statisticians to understand what percentage of the population are taking medications for anxiety and depression, the UK has to guess based on the number of prescriptions, but it would appear that it is undoubtably normal to be swallowing pills to correct for serious psychiatric conditions.

I read with dismay that doctors believe that the surge in prescriptions is believed to be due to bad things in the news. This is faulty thinking, because we are the news. It's impossible to separate ourselves from the events of the world - the media simply holds up a mirror. The media reflects what we can see around us with our own eyes: the destruction of the natural world, overcrowding and poverty. We know that we live in a very different world than the Baby Boomers grew up in. The many cushy things that previous generations took for granted - free university education, affordable housing, secure jobs - are now so hard to obtain that tiny children are coerced into studying hard from the moment that they can form words, in the hope that their sharp-elbowed parents can barge them to the front of the long queue.

If we look at suicide statistics, we can see that the "it's the news' fault" argument doesn't hold water. The number one cause of death of men age 20 to 40 is suicide, and those deaths are preventable, yet medicine's answer is to blame the newspapers. This is a scandalous situation, that those who are tasked with responsibility for public health would shrug their shoulders and point to the symptoms, not the cause of the disease.

To use myself as a case study, it seems unethical to start a family when the prospects for those children are so dire. What a dreadful thing to do - to bequeath a child a planet which has been irreparably wrecked; to so knowingly and wickedly create new life when the existing life is already having such a miserable existence and is so doomed to meet a horrible end. Life seems very pointless and purposeless, when there is very little hope of living a life which doesn't compound the errors of generations, and hasten the demise of the human race.

For many generations, they were content to build houses, grow crops, keep livestock and have food in their bellies. For many generations, it was a lifetime's work to meet your own basic human needs, and the needs of the children who were born in the absence of contraception and abortion. Today we have a virtually unlimited supply of high-calorie foods and almost none of us build our own homes, grow our own food, or have any dealings with farm animals. We do not know hunger, but we do know boredom, purposelessness, apathy, angst and learned helplessness.

I see people who become obsessed with fitness and toughening themselves up to seemingly cope with a disaster which never comes. Nobody is ever going to need to outrun a wild animal. Nobody is ever going to need to carry rocks or toil in the fields or forest to get enough food for their family. There are a huge number of people who are "prepping" for doomsday scenarios, even though their efforts are futile in the face of the enormously violent events which smite us.

It seems obvious that anxiety and depression are natural reactions to a world that is devoid of any opportunity to use our enormous brain for the ingenious problem-solving which would have been very useful 100,000 years ago, when humans had to continuously adapt to the ever-changing seasons.

I can think back to a time when I was obsessed with the wind and the waves, not in any negative way, but in fact I would relish the arrival of a large North Atlantic depression. I studied the weather forecast on an almost hourly basis and I would drive to parts of the country specifically to seek out storms which would cause trees to topple and buildings to be damaged. I had no control over these violent events of nature, but being part of the storm made me happy. I harnessed the wind - quite literally - and I revelled in the awesome power of nature.

Today, I have a ghoulish morbid obsession with the news, half-hoping that some catastrophe strikes and civilisation is plunged into chaos. I find the waiting to be quite intolerable. I find that my anxiety and depression levels are highly correlated to my boredom and lack of stimulation. My life is very stable and secure, but it's also unbearable. I yearn to be freed from the crowds of people who trudge co-operatively from place to place - why do they not scream and throw their briefcases away, and run off to live in the woods? Why does nobody flee from the concrete jungles and seek out a life which has more uncertainty, hunger and threat to life, but also provides some challenges and obstacles for the brain to tackle?

It strikes me that the source of my anxiety and depression is rooted in the restrictive nature of modern society, where I am unable to build anything or do anything, without considerable restrictions. My forebears were able to build their own houses, fence off some territory, cultivate their crops and rear their livestock - all of these things required a combination of physical and mental effort. For me to get a house and some food, I don't have to do anything - I'm just required to sit in a comfortable seat for a certain amount of hours every day, keeping my mouth shut.

Of course it's seemingly childish to romanticise simpler times, when disease and hunger were rife, but as anybody who's suffered anxiety and depression will tell you: these things are so bad that you want to kill yourself.

Living a life where you want to kill yourself is not great, and I don't think that refusing to read newspapers or watch TV is the answer, just as much as I think that pills are not the answer either. The solution lies in living a different kind of life altogether.

You tell me that I wouldn't be happy if I was cold and hungry, but you're wrong. I've been plenty cold and hungry, and I can tell you that I was vastly happier than I am today in a warm house with plenty of food in the fridge and cupboards. I was happy because I was free to do something about my situation. If I was cold, I could shelter. If I was hungry I could seek food. As I am presently, I can do nothing except sit at my desk, mute, waiting to die. I have no available options to improve my situation. I have nothing to challenge my brain and body. I have no purpose, except as a decorative lump of flesh and bone sat in an office chair.

Of course I follow the news avidly, but the news does not depress me or make me anxious. My lack of participation makes me depressed and anxious. Why am I just a spectator? Why am I passive in everything? If I was caught in a rainstorm I would look for some object to shelter beneath, but as a member of modern society I am expected to let everything lash down upon my head without flinching. The food and the housing which I enjoy are a byproduct of my inaction not my actions. If I was to act instinctively, I would only make things worse for myself and end up sleeping rough on the streets, hungry and cold. The situation is absurd.

Not taking antidepressants is a political statement, as much as anything. It's not me who needs to be adjusted to fit into society, but instead it is society which is unbearable to live within - there's not enough space for me to do anything other than keep my mouth shut in an attempt to fit in. I refuse to be medicated into a state of glassy-eyed passivity, like a cow chewing mindlessly on the cud.

Of course, if I spawned an infant by accident, then I woud surely be glad of every amenity available in modern society. I'd be cramming high-calorie foods into my child's face and indoctrinating them in the ways and means of staying in the top-half of humanity. However, as a thoughtful, considerate and ethical person who's considered the prospects for any theoretical child, I have decided that it would be cruel to the child and wickedly selfish to not avail myself of reproductive choices, choosing to avoid creating any more miserable mortal souls.

The stability and security of modern life are at the root of our unhappiness, not the state of utopia that we thought it would be. We are hard-wired for adverse conditions, and without that adversity we are nervous and twitchy. Without any route to gaining contentedness that is not morally wrong, we are depressed. The logical conclusion is that we should kill ourselves.

 

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Some Of My Problems Are My Own Fault

5 min read

This is a story about responsibility...

Suction cup

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

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

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

My life lacks meaning and purpose.

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

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

I stopped following the instructions at some point.

I've lost my way.

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

However.

I've gone off-script.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I fess up.

I done it.

I done a bad thing.

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

There. Happy now?

 

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Where Do I Live?

6 min read

This is a story about living in a dreamlike state...

Bags on the kitchen floor

I've spent the day feeling very unwell. I've drifted in and out of sleep. Every time I've woken up, I've been confused about where I am. What is this bed I'm sleeping in? Where is the bedroom door? Where is the toilet?

In my dreams today, I dreamt about two places which only exist in my mind. These two places where my brain thinks I've lived, are actually not real places at all. My brain is so jumbled up that it contains very detailed pictures of two places that I've never been to in my life - in my dreams, I know the colour of the walls, the layout of the rooms, the view from the windows, the furniture. In my dreams I feel absolutely certain that these are places where I've lived, but it's not true.

In those moments when I was waking up today, I was certain that I've lived in those imaginary places, and I had no idea where I actually was.

Strangely, those imaginary places feature quite regularly in my dreams. Sometimes I'm transported back to places I lived as a child, except those homes are always strangely altered in my dreams - they contain extra floors and corridors lead to unusual places. The two imaginary places which keep popping up in my dreams always look the same though - it's as though I know those places better than anywhere I've ever lived, even though they don't actually exist.

I think it's pretty clear that all the travelling around and living out of a suitcase has left me quite disturbed.

When I arrived home last night, I dumped my 4 bags onto the kitchen floor, which is pretty much where they remain, untouched. When I say "home" I don't really mean home in the sense that you might think of it, because I know I must leave here again very soon.

I've been feeling sick all day.

I don't feel well enough to go to work tomorrow.

Going to work entails me packing everything I need for the working week. Going to work entails me loading my bags into my car and driving across the country. Going to work entails me staying somewhere which isn't home, but yet it almost is.

I've become familiar with the hotels I stay in, except that the rooms are mirror-images of each other, so there's only a 50% chance that I'll get out of the right side of bed to stumble to the toilet in the middle of the night. When I reach for the bedside light-switch, there's a 50% chance that I'll flick the switch that turns on the bright main lights in the room, as opposed to the bedside lamp. I exist in a world where every bed is slightly unfamiliar, and the least familiar of all is the one that I suppose I might refer to as "in my home".

My stuff is spread all over the place. Some of my stuff in a friend's mum's garage. Some of my stuff is piled up in my bedroom. Some of my stuff is packed into suitcases and holdalls, so that it can be transported around from place to place. When I'm away from home, it's a 2.5 hour round-trip to collect anything that I might have forgotten, or anything that I might unexpectedly need.

I spend a huge amount of time trying to stay organised. The things I travel with are neatly partitioned: Work clothes and casual clothes, toiletries, medicines, gadgets, footwear, raincoats and other things which have crept into my luggage by accident, where holidays have overlapped with my on-the-road existence. I have no need of flip-flops, sunglasses and travel plug adapters, but yet these things end up being lugged around by me, because they're small and light so I never bothered to leave them behind.

Where do I live anyway? The bulk of my possessions are stored in somebody's garage. The things I need the most are transported around by me, everywhere I go. The majority of nights, I'm sleeping in a bed which is not my own. The only constant is my luggage - everything else changes. I never unpack my bags. I've become extremely adept at rummaging and locating the item I need.

If I wanted to go to work tomorrow, I would need to wash, dry and iron my work clothes. It's 11pm at night and I would need to leave at 7am to be at work on time, so that doesn't give me enough time to get the sleep I need as well as packing everything I need for the week ahead.

In some ways, I had a more settled life when I lived in a hostel. At least in the hostel, the bunkbeds were all identical and I got used to where the toilets were. I got used to the noise of the other inhabitants. I got used to homeless life, because I was living it 7 days a week, instead of having this split and nomadic existence.

The constant change in my life is unsettling, and that's why I think my mind has retreated into the realm of the imaginary. Not having a stable home is the reason why I find the imaginary homes in my head more familiar than the hotels rooms and rented places where I actually sleep.

The demands placed upon me have disturbed and unsettled my mind. I've been made sick by the lack of security and stability in my home life. My arduous yet delicate weekly routine is easily disturbed, with catastrophic results for my sense of wellbeing and ability to function.

Yes, I'm well-practiced at packing my bags and dealing with mirror-image hotel rooms, or even hostel dorms, while somehow maintaining the illusion that I have a settled and secure ordinary middle-class life, like my colleagues at work. Yes I can tolerate the intolerable, for a while, by sticking to my routines and following my procedures, but it's very demanding and I'm always on the verge of having a nervous breakdown from the stress.

My fridge is empty. My cupboards are bare. However, tomorrow I will remain "at home" and do my washing, and make my preparations for the remainder of the working week, which I imagine I will spend in a hotel. I will attempt to resume my routine. My routine is what I have instead of stability and security.

 

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On Probation

7 min read

This is a story about being on tenterhooks...

Book quote

I'm a living contradiction. I choose security and certainty over the vain hope of hitting the jackpot. If I was given the choice between having a "B" grade, but not having to do any work or suffer any uncertainty, versus the potential to achieve an "A+" then I would take the "B" grade without a moment's hesitation. If you think that's settling for mediocrity, you're wrong - I choose my battles and I achieve "A+" grades all the time... as an accidental consequence of pursuing the things I'm interested in and passionate about.

The other part of my contradictory personality is that I choose to take incredible risks. I jump out of planes. I climb rock faces. I scale high mountains. I ride gigantic waves in gale-force winds. Why the hell would I do that?

There are a lot of risk-reward-cost-benefit calculations that go on inside my head.

I've gathered a lot of data.

The decision to take dangerous highly addictive drugs might seem like one of the most baffling choices that a person would elect to do. For example, taking heroin is seen as an indication of character flaw, but being a BASE jumper is seen as cool, although the latter carries the same risk of premature death.

Let's do a bit more in-depth analysis, shall we?

Cost of being a rock climber:

  • Rock boots: £45
  • Harness: £75
  • Chalk bag & chalk ball: £15
  • Rope £150
  • Helmet £50
  • Belay plate: £20
  • 10 quickdraws: £150

TOTAL: £505

So, for somebody who wants to climb a rock face safely, the minimum amount they're going to have to spend is over £500. Also, you might fall and die. Let's re-iterate that: It's pretty damn obvious that if you climb up a vertical rock face and you lose your grip, you can fall to the ground and be killed on impact.

Cost of being a mountaineer:

  • Crampon-compatible boots: £200
  • Crampons: £120
  • Base layers: £40
  • Mid-layers: £80
  • Shell layer jacket: £250
  • Shell layer salopettes: £180
  • Ice axes: £250
  • Helmet: £50
  • 9mm waterproof rope: £175
  • Ice screws: £120
  • Warthogs: £40
  • Deadman: £40
  • Backpack: £150
  • Survival bag: £20
  • Down sleeping bag: £300
  • Down jacket: £200
  • Tent: £350
  • Sleeping mat: £60

TOTAL: £2,625

So, for somebody who wants to climb a 4,000m+ mountain (Mont Blanc etc) then you're going to have to shell out more than £2,500. In fact, it's going to cost you a lot more, because you're going to need lots of things I didn't list, like spare pairs of socks, spare base layers, and also a stove, cooking utensils, plus all the other expedition gear. You're not going to have much spare change out of £3,500. Did I mention that you're highly likely to be killed by falling rocks, avalanches, falling into a crevasse, or simply plummeting to your death.

I shan't follow the same process for kitesurfing, yacht sailing or skydiving, but the financial cost of putting your life in danger can be staggering, especially when we consider that rugged outdoorsy types are somehow healthy and laudable people of good character and moral fibre; made of the right stuff.

Another group of people who we might consider are the entrepreneurs. Who are these people who reject conventional employment - salaried jobs - and instead choose to make their money by means other than selling their singular body and brain. Are these people risk takers too?

In fact, all the celebrated members of society have one thing in common: they've had the financial means to pursue avenues that are not available to most of the populace, because the need to eat, be housed and be clothed is an insistent demand which is too pressing for all but those who enjoy considerable economic advantages. Do not believe the bullshit - rugged adventurers are not brave souls and entrepreneurs are not gifted geniuses... they're all people who've had the financial backing in order to pursue their expensive dreams. Don't believe any of the "self-made man" bullshit. Behind every "self made" man are a whole bunch of people who've underwritten their risk.

I busted my shoulder up pretty badly - broken bones - on a beach in a remote part of Brasil. My startup co-founder broke his leg very badly indeed in roughly the same part of Brasil. That part of the world is many hours away from a good hospital with a surgeon and operating theatre where complex orthopaedic surgery could be performed. Would we have been so adventurous if we hadn't become somewhat complacent about the bubble we live in?

I'm on probation at the moment. I'm on best behaviour. I'm trying to impress my new girlfriend. I'm trying to prove that I'm a good boyfriend.

But, do I really think that I'm going to fail?

Have I ever been worried that I'm going to fall to my death?

Have I ever been worried that world-class medical establishments and all the many wonders of modern civilisation aren't rapidly available in an emergency? Have I ever been worried that somebody wouldn't patch me up as good as new, if I had an accident?

It's never really crossed my mind that I might not get what I want. Of course, I've had heart-stopping moments when I've suddenly realised how staggeringly exposed I am. I've spent so much of my life living on the edge that I've become desensitised to the worrying fact that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and the more times I put my life at risk, the greater the chance that I'm going to be badly injured or killed.

I was worried that I was too fat, old, mentally ill and addicted to drugs and alcohol to ever meet somebody who'd fall in love with me. I was worried that I was too indebted and lacking in any assets - such as a fast car and big house - to be attractive to any object of my affections. I was worried that I was a washed-up loser; a has-been.

Our whole lives are lived under Damocles' sword, somewhat. We could mess up our exams. We could mess up our careers. We could mess up our relationships. There's never a single moment when we can really relax and feel like we're not on probation in some way.

I guess I'm pretty sanguine. I get anxious and I torment myself a very great deal with catastrophic thinking but ultimately, I feel the fear and do what I was always going to do anyway. I'm well aware of the innumerable and virtually unimaginable risks, but if you examine my behaviour - as opposed to what I write - then you'll see that I never choose the low-risk option; you'll see that I continuously pursue the very best that life has to offer, despite stress levels which are almost intolerable.

Tomorrow is an important day, but I already know that I'm going to be OK. My risk is underwritten. What's the worst that can happen? Death? Hospitalisation? Been there. Done that.

 

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Barrier to Entry

9 min read

This is a story about prejudice...

Way out

If somebody has decided they don't like you because something has invoked their prejudices, then almost anything you say or do will be twisted negatively. There's no way to win somebody over once you're seen in a bad light, because it's possible to create a monster out of a saint if your mind is that way inclined.

I photographed the exit from my office.

I shouldn't have done it.

I knew it was wrong.

Nobody's told me off yet. Nobody's caught me. My wrongdoing has been entirely unnoticed by the universe.

This. Does. Not. Matter.

I'm not supposed to put photographs of an entrance into a secure building up on the public internet. In fact I'm probably expressly forbidden from doing such a thing depending on the interpretation of deliberately nebulous bullshit.

Provided I'm the golden boy and I'm making myself valuable around the place, nobody really gives a damn who I am and what I do. I could write about the specifics of what I do for a day job - which is all public anyway - and I wouldn't suffer any consequences, so long as I retain the aura of a person who's desirable to have around; so long as I'm wanted.

The moment that the sands shift and I'm viewed as an undesirable scumbag then I'll suddenly come under much closer scrutiny. Those who are looking for reasons to reject me are sure to find many things which they can twist to their advantage.

"Aha!" they will exclaim. "We've rumbled you!"

Of course, the joke is on those who seek to act with prejudice, because this identity existed all along. Everything has been on open public display. I was welcomed in with open arms when you wanted something from me and you thought you were getting the better end of the deal.

"You mean to say I hired a junkie alcoholic homeless bankrupt tramp with mental health problems!" they exclaim.

The indignation is palpable.

The prejudiced are always unreasonably angry and upset to discover that their trusted and valued colleague who has successfully delivered their large and complex IT project is nothing more than a low-life loser.

"I could have paid you peanuts!" seems to be the thing that's most upsetting to these people who'd think nothing of kicking a homeless person to death and urinating on the corpse.

It's not true.

You cannot pay me peanuts.

I cut my day rate by over 50% when I was utterly desperate last year, and I was taken advantage of worse than I've ever been in my 21 year career. I was treated disgustingly. I will never do that again.

Do you think you're getting a bargain every time you beat somebody down on the price they've quoted you? Do you think you're succeeding when you ask somebody to do more work for less money?

Wrong.

Pay less. Get less.

Do you think you're making the world a better place by refusing to work with vast swathes of society? Do you think you're more likely to succeed if you surround yourself with people who are just like you: A-grade achieving, 2:1 degree holding, compliant and conformant worker-bee drones who've got manicured CVs?

I should not be allowed onto the hallowed turf.

My face does not fit.

I'm an intruder.

I'm an interloper.

However, I'm not a fraud.

Stuff comes out of my mouth and even I'm surprised. People wander over to my desk and they want to talk to me. They want to ask me questions. Somehow I know the answers. Believe me... I'm more surprised than anybody.

I'm acutely aware that when people are having a tough time and living in a precarious situation they are more inclined to accept less money. People who are going through economic difficulties are easier to bully and exploit. It's relatively straightforward to fuck the poor.

In a poker game you have to have your chips on the table. Everyone can see the size of your stack.

I seem to have gained a somewhat posh accent, although I'm not entirely sure where I got it from because my parents are Northern and I was born in Wales. My cut-glass accent is apparently a close enough approximation to that of a privately educated and privileged member of the set who are destined for greatness, such that I haven't had to suffer the indignity of being offered insultingly low wages by the exploitative rentier class. They assume I'm one of them.

I'm racked with guilt that I enjoy privileges conferred by social status - when the people who I interact with in a work environment mistakenly think I've had a fine and expensive education - but yet I've rubbed shoulders with enough rough sleepers, junkies and alcoholics on the streets of London to know that intellect doesn't magically happen to restrict itself to upper-middle-class white families in the Home Counties.

Nobody knows that I should be stacking shelves in a supermarket for minimum wage. That's my so-called place in society, and I should be grateful to lick the boots of the capitalist pigs. (Caveat: I know that our supermarket shelves need stacking - it's a vital role - and I'm grateful to those who do the job).

I'm careening towards a collision with those who believe it's their rôle in life to police the social strata. They will find this document interesting reading. There is much ammunition here to construct a fabricated reason for my dismissal, on the flimsy and patently absurd basis that I might be exposing the country to terrorist attack by publicising confidential details about the entrance to our impregnable fortress. Perhaps I'm bringing my profession into disrepute and otherwise stepping out of line; conducting myself in a manner unbecoming of my position of responsibility. Bullshit.

Of course I might feel a pang of regret if I succeed in raising my profile sufficiently that the powers-that-be feel they have to take some action and eject me from the world I'm not supposed to belong to. "This isn't for the likes of you" they'll say as they boot me out of the door.

"What have I done?" I'll momentarily ask myself.

It seems two-faced to sit on the fence. It seems awful to take the big bucks and not impoverish myself as a charity worker. What the hell am I doing trying to change the world without first making myself poor and destitute?

Actually, I did make myself poor and destitute.

Am I now turning my back on the struggling masses?

I like to think that I'm doing the very opposite. I'm a bridge in-between two worlds which would never normally meet. There isn't much more I could do to challenge the prejudices of those who live in sheltered worlds, inaccessible to ordinary people and especially those who are tainted by the stench of poverty. I have specifically set out to become liked and respected, while also maintaining an open secret of my chequered past. My situation is no accident.

Three years ago I grew impatient. Three years ago my project was in its infancy and I was rushing things. Three years ago I was too tired, stressed and destabilised by the traumatic experiences I'd been through. Three years ago I had a plan but I was too unwell to execute it with any finesse. Three years ago I tried to force things to happen, which was "contrived" to put it in the words of the BBC journalist I was dating. She was right.

What I'm doing right now is still somewhat contrived, but it's not easy.

You'll find plenty of writers who'll have spent a single night sleeping rough, or perhaps in a psychiatric institution, in order to provide material for them to write about.

You won't find many people on the right side of the tracks who can write with any depth of experience and knowledge about the afflictions of modern life.

Life is a one-way street.

I feel quite unique in having been able to resume a life to which my entry should be completely barred. A great deal of effort goes into stopping people just like me from being able to enter the realm in which I inhabit. A vast system exists to thoroughly exclude ordinary mortals from getting anywhere near the restricted areas where I tread.

Instead of thanking my lucky stars and being wowed by the privilege, such that I become afraid of being ejected, I try to keep doing the brave thing of being honest and open. I refuse to hide my true identity.

For the avoidance of doubt, I'm careful to blur portions of images which show things which are confidential. I'm careful to never mention anything which is sensitive or classified. I never say where exactly I work and who I work for. I never divulge any details which realistically could be ever used for nefarious purposes, or expose anything which should be secure.

Of couse... my real name and my face are public property.

But.

How would you go about blackmailing or otherwise manipulating me, if I've already made everything about me fully public?

What do you think I'd say if you said you knew my boss' name and were going to send them the link to my blog?

You're failing to appreciate the value of living an open life.

You're failing to see that secrecy and privacy are illusional.

You're failing to accept that the pressure of maintaining your spotless CV and so-called reputation is an instrument of tyranny, which makes you easily manipulated and exploited by the capitalists.

The most rebellious thing you can do is to create a public identity you're proud of; refuse to sanitise and hide your true self and your mistakes.

Never hide.

 

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Training Artificial Intelligence

12 min read

This is a story about computer brains...

Screens

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

Why does milk taste sweet?

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

That's machine learning.

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

Obviously this is very flawed.

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

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

We need to refine our reward system.

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

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

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

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

That's a neural network.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let's go...

Ok... page 35 has been randomly selected.

And... word 17 has been randomly selected.

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

OF COURSE IT WAS "of".

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

Here's what my phone just generated:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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I refuse to go to the gym

8 min read

This is a story about body-beautiful and get-fit...

Ripped shorts

I caught a glimpse of myself reflected in the lenses of the guy operating the theme park attraction, where I spent the day. I'm very pale and badly out of shape. There were other guys around with beer guts and less-than-perfect bodies, making me feel a little less self-conscious, but I was the whitest person I've seen all day.

I was the first person to arrive at the Float Rider attraction today, having meticulously planned how to get there and beat the crowds. I was a man on a mission: to surf the wave machine. The machine is more commonly known by the registered trademark: FlowRider. A stationary wave is created by pumping water 'uphill' which can be 'surfed' with a boogie board, short-fin, or finless surfboard.

I knew that every person who rides the FlowRider asks the staff if they can skip straight to the board riding part, but I thought I'd make my intentions known. "I want to ride on a board" I said. "I can surf" I said.

Yeah, yeah, buddy. You and every other person who wants to ride the FlowRider. Back of the queue.

It didn't help that I'm old and in bad physical shape, in terms of being judged capable and competent enough to skip the demeaning preparatory step of riding on my tummy. I thought I'd uncomplainingly go along with things, in the hope that my commitment would soon become apparent and enable me to be allowed to ride a board.

Two other men my age - also equally out of shape - soon joined me, and we were all put through our paces, skimming over the surface of the wave on our tummies. I decided to up the ante in the hope of impressing upon the operator that I was capable and competent. I jumped up onto my knees and rode the boogie board in a kneeling position.

I thought that would be enough.

No.

"Practice your balance" I was told.

Fine.

I thought I'll bide my time and not harass the poor guy whose job it is to supervise an endless procession of people who are quite happy to spend 30 minutes riding on their tummy before they get bored and wander off. I thought to myself: "I'll continue to patiently demonstrate my keen intent to progress to the board-riding stage".

I'd been doing this for a couple of hours. I was very bored. I applied some gentle pressure. No luck.

In all, I spent nearly 3 hours patiently riding around on my goddam knees. I don't know why I didn't just wander off and return later; save some energy. I presumed that my continuous presence would eventually wear down the attraction operator, and he would relent and let me ride a goddam board.

The attraction was very quiet. Sometimes I was the only person on the FlowRider. I presumed that my dedication and commitment were noticed. I presumed that the guy would give in eventually.

Then, the operator went for lunch.

A little bit of background about him.

"Do what you love" we're told. "Follow your dreams" we're told. What if you love surfing? What then?

I love surfing -> surfing is not a job -> there aren't many surfing instructor jobs -> become a theme park ride operator.

This guy must have a tough holiday season. His job is basically a kind of lifeguard. His time seemed to be mostly spent policing spoiled rich children, intent on queue-jumping. Surf protocol is very clear about the line-up and whose turn it is to catch the next wave. Surfers get pretty mad about anybody dropping in on a wave that isn't 'theirs'. Also, surfing is pretty hard, given the combination of skills required to paddle out to the breaking waves, spot a good wave to catch, paddle to catch it, pop into standing position and then ride the wave. In a busy line-up, you're not going to catch many waves in a day. As an out-of-shape 39-year-old guy who hasn't seen sunshine for a couple of years, I'm the last person you'd expect to be able to ride a board.

Before lunch, I pressured the would-be surf instructor guy for a go riding the board when he returned for the afternoon session. He agreed.

When I returned, the FlowRider was the busiest I'd seen it. In fact, it was so busy that people were riding the wave on their tummies in pairs.

I worked my way slowly towards the front of the queue.

Then, at last, my chance to ride a goddam board arrived.

It's a lot easier than surfing.

The wave is perfect.

The takeoff is easy.

Perhaps it was sweeter, that there had been a lengthy buildup to that moment, but it was awesome that I was standing on a little foam surfboard, carving fairly effortlessly back and forth on the standing wave. In a lot of ways I was right - I didn't need to spend those demeaning hours on my bloody knees - but it was fine, because at least I was getting to ride right then and it didn't matter at all that my morning had been somewhat a waste of time and energy.

I spent the remainder of the afternoon riding the a board - catching endless perfect waves.

I very much enjoyed my status as "king of the kooks" - being allowed to ride the board and being cheered on by onlookers; getting big thumbs up from people; many wanting to ask me how long it took to learn to ride the board and make it look easy.

Embarrassingly, I've got more years of experience riding boards than I care to admit.

I suppose it must have been an odd sight - the old out-of-shape palest guy in the whole goddam theme park, riding the board like a pro. The photographs of a surfer riding a wave, plastered around the attraction, portrey the thing that everybody wants to be able to do right away.

The FlowRider probably gets busier in the afternoons, but pleasingly the demographic changed from little kids who wanted to ride for a short while before quickly getting bored, to a bunch of thrill-seekers who, like me, didn't seem to have any children and were in the theme park to have some unadulterated (sic.) immature fun.

For six and a half hours, I rode that wave over and over again. For six and a half hours, I exercised.

It was only light exercise. Real surfing would have quickly exhausted me.

However, it was the most exercise I've done in years.

But it didn't feel like I was doing exercise.

If I could carry on riding the FlowRider for the next 364 days, I'm sure I'd get remarkably fit & healthy again, and look like far more of an authentic surfer than the old out-of-shape old pale guy, surprising people by being able to ride quite competently and confidently.

I'm covered in bruises from various wipeouts and my shorts got ripped, but I feel really good from the exercise. My skin got a little sun, so it's not as white as it was.

I'd like to get fit & healthy again, but I'll be damned if I'm going to have to go to a goddam gym to do it. Today I did 6.5 hours of exercise by accident, which was a whole lot more fun than the mind-numbingly boring pursuit of a better body in a gym.

Pleasingly, I had the core strength and stamina to spend a whole day riding a wave. I'm pleasantly physically fatigued. The few bits of me that ache or are bruised are hurting in a way that's kinda nice. I didn't aggressively try to get a quick tan, but my face feels a bit sun-kissed, which is a great feeling - brings back so many nice memories of fun times on the water.

I just need to figure out some kind of fun physical thing to do regularly, which doesn't feel like exercise.

I know I'll sleep better and feel happier about my appearance if I can get fit again. I know that it's good to stay in shape. It's nice to feel healthy & attractive.

I'll be damned if I'll go to a goddam gym though.

 

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