Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Literature - the opiate of the intellectual.

When I was 20 and going through relatively minor, undetected, psychotic episodes while working at Grand Metropolitan Brewing (Systems), my coping mechanisms were 1) reading and 2) running Dungeons and Dragons games based in the World Of Greyhawk and 3) computing on a 68008 based computer, the Sinclair QL. At weekends, isolated and hundreds of miles away from my family, I would bury myself in my books, writing and computing. Some weekends I would read two novels in a weekend.

Losing and regaining intellect.
2001 saw me at the height of my programming abilities. I was making good progress in learning things that were new to me – C++, STL, generics, ODBC, VCL and the sky (or at least Boost) seemed the limit. I'd been a C++ design geek for some time – reading books and asking questions about what was not only what the language features were but also how to deploy them. So I was well placed to start using C++. About April 2001 saw the beginning of what is either the end or a major power cut in my programming career. I was made redundant and within weeks I was admitted into a psychiatric Hospital with a major psychotic episode. At the time I figured I was safe from those people who had conspired against me and that no-one would look for me in a psychiatric hospital – I was safe. I was put on anti-psychotic medication (Olanzapine)

Do you remember the Jack Nicholson character at the end of the film, “One flew over the cuckoo's nest”? Well, that was me in 2002. A cocktail of medication, schizophrenia and lack of intellectual stimulation meant my intellectual abilities took a nose-dive. Since about 2003 I've been working to regain my intellect. It started with small steps, while on rehab (East Loan) – reading the Daily Mirror, reading Bridget Jones' The Edge of Reason (in about 3 months). I've taken to frequenting local libraries, reading New Scientist, Scientific American, The Economist in the journals section. And I've been reading books and, on occasion, reviewing books. Thanks to New Scientist, Scientific American and some library books, I've got a rough recipe for genius:-

1% inspiration
15% Mentorship
4% Lifestyle (good rest, diet, pacing, planning)
80% perspiration

Thanks to my concerted efforts, I now have the reading capacities I had as when I was 21 years old. That's an encouraging milestone. But there's more to come. I've got to regain my programming abilities by learning new tools. I'm going for a Linux based approach because 1) lots of new things happen there and 2) its cheap. If I can work with the Linux stuff, I can work on the proprietary stuff at a later date. There's a new version of C++ due out before 2010. I want to regain my abilities by then, possibly by working on free/open source software projects and building up a portfolio of work.