“He’s Got A Knife!”

October 19, 2009

Had an amusing thing happen at about five o’clock today. I was sitting at a table on the first floor of  McDonalds on the West End of Princes Street eating dinner and whoring the free wifi and there was a not insignificant group of teenagers of between 14 and 16 years of age causing chaos.

I quite understandably had sat as far from them as I could and pulled out my netbook in order to surf whilst eating my food.

After a short while I noticed a group of about a dozen or so of them migrate to tables near myself, and I also noted that they were all male. None of the females were coming with them.

Very soon thereafter one of the group comes up to my table – he couldn’t have been older than sixteen – and proceeds to ask me if I’m enjoying my burger. The situation was already suspicious but that nailed it. It’s McDonalds, the burgers are generic and you never would ask a random stranger if they’re enjoying their burger. It supported my suspicions so my hand slowly went into my pocket and gripped a hold of my multi-tool such that I could easily and quickly withdraw it.

Then this kid finished confirming my suspicions by asking in an overly-forced appearance of friendliness “That’s a nice laptop, isn’t it?”.

I knew what was going on. They’d figured I was an easy mark and were planning on robbing me.

Which was when, without even looking at the kid and still keeping my focus upon my netbook whilst saying “Yep, it is…”, I pulled my multi-tool out of my pocket and proceeded to flick out one of the blades.

It should be noted that the blades on it are all legal as in they are under three inches which means you don’t have to justify having it on your possession…

Anyway, the kid immediately turns around and shouts to his mates “He’s got a knife on him!”. Cheers kid. If I had been mistaken about his, and his friends, intentions originally then I’ve just had it confirmed that I was correct all along.

He quickly returned to his friends who all started moving away from me then very shortly left the restaurant.

It’s almost a shame. If they had tried anything then I could have had a lot of fun regardless of whether I was outnumbered or not. I never pick a fight but I’ll always end it…. Those kids definitely picked the wrong person as their mark, the interesting bit would be to see if they try anything like that anytime soon.


The Call

October 19, 2009

As I have mentioned previously, I am a fairly hardcore alcoholic to the point where it actively interferes with my ability to function.

I have, for a while now, been waiting on a call from Alcohol Problem Services for inpatient detox. This would consist of seven days of inpatient treatment whereby you are given a controlled and slowly reduced dosage of a benzodiazepine (chlordiazepoxide, which goes by the trade name librium) in order to manage withdrawal symptoms whilst being supported with thorough counselling.

Following this, you are then placed on a month long outpatient treatment of naltrexone whilst continuing the counselling. Naltrexone inculcates an allergic response to alcohol and if you try drinking then you will vomit heavily (at a minimum).

The idea is to help your body come off the alcohol whilst also helping to get your brain used to not drinking. Even after treatment you are still going to have a long way to go, but this is step one in getting better.

The problem though is that there are a limited number of places available for inpatient detox on the NHS so you can end up waiting for a while. Even as a priority case I’ve been waiting for about a month and a half – though given it’s free at the point of use versus the thousands upon thousands of pounds it can cost for private detox then you shouldn’t complain too bitterly.

Anyway, today I got the call to go in for treatment. I actually got called twice in the morning but both times it was from a number I didn’t recognise so I let it go to voicemail except no v/m was left. As a result I ignored to calls until I had a chanced to do a look-up on the phone number and saw that it was the generic NHS Scotland switchboard number – the only reason for me to be getting a call was to notify me of a date for my hospital treatment.

In the afternoon I got another call from the same number and this time I answered it.

I have to be at the hospital for 10am on Wednesday 28th October.

This is hopefully the beginning of my world turning around.

Sleeping Rough. Why Do It?

October 15, 2009

I’m not even going to pretend to be an expert on this issue, after all I am merely someone who is homeless, but an individual I know asked why, if temporary accommodation were available, there are chose who do not make use of it?

I suspect it may come down to the rules that go with living in temporary accommodation. You have to be in by 11pm. That is not a spectacularly onerous requirement although in a city like Edinburgh where social events only truly begin to occur from 9pm onwards it can be an issue as it curtails your ability to maintain a social life, at least on Fridays and Saturdays (what, just because I’m homeless I’m not allowed to at least try and maintain some connection with normalcy?).

But there are two far more onerous rules that are, when you consider the people to whom they are being applied, highly counter-productive.

The first is that you are not going to be permitted into the accommodation if you are drunk (or otherwise intoxicated) and the second is that you are not permitted alcohol or any illegal drugs upon the premises.

You can superficially understand the reasoning behind these rules but upon applying further thought you see why are seriously flawed.

Clearly, if someone is drunk to the point of being disruptive then you would not want them on the premises, yet that is true of any individual regardless of their housing situation. If they are drunk enough to be disruptive then call the police and have carted off to cool their heels for being Drunk & Disorderly or for being in Breach of the Peace. The police may not necessarily like this use of their resources but it is one of the functions they are employed to perform. By applying a blanket ban then you are also impacting upon those who are not disruptive or belligerent drunks.

You can also understand why currently prohibited drugs are not permitted upon the premises owing to the legal situation and liability risk, though a blanket ban on alcohol makes little to no sense. It is an entirely legal product to possess and there is no apparent issue with the toxic, carcinogenic use of tobacco within peoples’ rooms.

Yet this leads to another issue. Why are so many who are homeless actually in that position? The answer is that many find themselves in an overlap of psychiatric and substance dependency issues. Especially alcohol.

So by setting the rules up such that to get support you are not allowed to utilise a substance upon which you are dependent then you are automatically seeking to preclude some of the very people most in need of support.

Further, alcohol dependency is unlike most other addictions in one critical fashion. Due to the biochemistry involved, alcohol and its metabolites become a substitute for the enzyme GABA and the body stops producing GABA. This is not a problem when you are still drinking. It does however become one where a person stops drinking. Most of us are familiar with the DT’s and the term jitterbug actually derives from a description of alcoholics in Prohibition/Jazz-era Harlem (he’s jittery as a dunebug…). These shakes and seizures result from any appropriate pathway to perform the function that the GABA or alcohol had been supporting, and it takes time for the body to resume production of GABA.

This period can be fatal. I’ve seen figures that would suggest that, under certain use cases, a medically unassisted withdrawal from alcohol can have a 30% mortality rate. The current mechanism for managing withdrawal from alcohol is a controlled programme of a slowly diminished dosage of a benzodiazepine (typically chlordiazepoxide a.k.a. Librium) over a period of seven days then one of the chemicals on the market which is designed to produce a vomit-reflex/allergy response when alcohol is also consumed which is taken in a managed fashion for a period of a month along with appropriate support and counselling.

In other words, forcing an alcoholic to just stop is skirting very near the bone for attempted murder, and nedical professionals involved in this area specifically advise alocholics that under no circumstances are they to ‘just quit’ by going cold turkey. It’s painful for a smackhead but it won’t kill them. It will for an alcoholic.

In such circumstances, where you experience grand mal shakes, seizures and blackouts and your heart could stop, would you agree to go through or suffer such an onerous requirement? Of course not. And I suspect it is asinine rules such as these which cause people to remain on the streets.

This does, however, bring us onto the Government’s ever more authoritarian rules that it wishes to place on those in receipt of benefits who have drink or drugs problems. For some reason, the State seems to be functioning under the belief that you can just order an addict to stop being an addict by virtue of an arbitrary order. You can’t.

You need treatment places, appropriate support and a desire on the part of the addict to quit. Without these things then nothing will change.

Except the treatment places aren’t there and no-one is willing to fund them. I’m considered a priority case for in-patient detox and am awaiting a place becoming available. If I get the call then I am in the next day.

I’ve been waiting for a month with no word on when I’m likely to get a spot.

The Government is out of its tiny authoritarian mind if it thinks its ideas regarding this are going to work…

Sitting In Starbucks. Or, Is There An Easy Way Around Pay WiFi?

October 15, 2009

I was just sitting there having a large Americano with an extra shot idling away some time and with the wireless function enabled on the netbook it detected and connected the coffee shop’s wireless network perfectly. Except that Starbucks use a BTOpenzone pay service which got me thinking. How do you regulate a pay wireless service which is unencrypted without installing any software on users devices or getting hostnames or MAC addresses from customers?

Firing up Firefox, I shoved the address for Google in the address bar and press Return. Rather than loading Google’s homepage, it instead takes you to a BTOpenzone login page where it prompts you for a username and password. So they must do a DNS hijack which redirects to their proxies where they check whether a time limited cookie is amongst your cookies. If not, you get the login page.

So, could using a service like OpenDNS allow you to bypass this and get the service for free? Coffee for thought…

Of course, if they’re sensible, they’ll block outbound DNS requests except those originating from their own DNS servers. Experience dictates though that most IT Security teams only ever patch holes in their security arrangements after someone has been exploiting it for some time and they notice it when auditing the log files, and how many of a coffee shop’s punters would even know how to do this let alone think about it?

For a corporate network, you should never be able to do this as the default behaviour should be to block all outbound traffic except that which has been explicitly permitted, and a good asset management process with solid CMDB to track changes along with thorough audit procedures allows you to do just that. If someone needs something opened up then they submit a change request with the requisite business case which then gets approved or denied.

But you can’t do this for public networks where your users will be doing everything from email to browsing to VPNing into work to playing online games such that you have no idea as to what needs to be opened up or not. Restricting your paying customers to just surfing the web isn’t going to hold much dice, and would just encourage more and more businesses and software developers to continue the rampant misuse of ports 80 and 443 and to expand on the trend to treat the http and https ports as ‘universal ports’.


October 15, 2009

One of the key things which strikes you about being homeless is the tedium. My room in the B&B is roughly on the same scale as a prison cell but lacks even a toilet.

I do have a television which can receive the five over-the-air channels though. And that is a very irrelevant though. I don’t watch broadcast television and I haven’t for quite some time. I’m used to being able to torrent or youtube or use the BBC’s iPlayer to watch whatever I want to watch (although as a slight coincidence, Channel 4 were showing True Blood and Generation Kill when I put the telly on because I needed the background noise and these happen to be two shows I torrented regularly when they first aired). Additionally, I would use my lovefilm subscription to whore my way through DVDs – three at a time and as many in a month as I could post and receive whilst also ripping them as ISOs for a more ahem permanent solution.

I’d play videogames. Sometimes obsessively. My 360, my Wii and my PC were essential parts of my entertainment philosophy. When I boxed everything up the resultant boxes hosting the videogames were amongst the heaviest of my possessions.

I miss being able to surf the net whenever I desire. Previously if I had a thought about something then I could instantaneously google it or browse the relevant site if I already knew the URL. Now I’m restricted to only being able to do this when I can find a net connection. B&Bs do not do wi-fi.

I don’t have my books to read. Any of them. My library was vast enough that when I was putting everything into storage one of the individuals who assisted me in moving the boxes commented that I obviously liked to read. This struck me as a somewhat curious comment. After all, who doesn’t like to read? It turns out the answer is most people. For most, as soon as they finish the highest level of education they achieve then they never or rarely read a book again. As someone who would oft have three books on the go at the same time this strikes me as a disturbing scenario – how can you be so lacking in imagination that you do not want to delve into the worlds that others have sought to conjure?

I miss having my background noise in the form of the always-on radio. I can at least use my phone for that function to a limited extent. Yet I miss the discussion-based shows that are my bread and butter.

You are truly left with nothing to do.

The tedium could drive you stir crazy trying to fill your days with some little thing which could give you purpose. Except, after a fashion, it is far worse than being in prison. In a gaol you know that you will (with certain exceptions) eventually get out; that life can eventually assume some form of normality. Being homeless you lack this definity. You suffer until you do not suffer anymore, but you know not when that suffering ends.

A Slight Addendum

October 14, 2009

I’m currently sat in the ‘beer garden’ of a pub in central Edinburgh having a pint of IPA and leeching someone’s wireless connection whilst looking for work and having replied to a spec email from a recruiter regarding a migration job going from Notes 6 to Exchange 2007 somewhere in central London paying £450 per day.

Life is certainly different here in the future.

The Day of Days

October 14, 2009

So, it’s finally happened. As of today I am truly homeless.

I wandered through the flat several times before finally slinging my bags over my shoulder and heading down to the Council offices at the foot of Cockburn Street in order to arrange to be placed in temporary accommodation. Said accommodation consisting of a B&B.

It hurts. It truly hurts. It was my home for two and a half years. As I was merely leasing, I obviously did not expect to reside there permanently. What I did expect though was that I would leave on my own terms as opposed to being unceremoniously turfed out.

In the end, I didn’t even bother cleaning up. I didn’t trash the place, but I fully expected never to see my deposit back again anyway. I just left the keys on the sideboard and walked out, closing the door behind me.

At the minute, I just want to cry. It’s all I want to do. I just keep wondering over and over again about why this had to come to happen to me, because I just don’t know why.

It’s one of those things which causes you to sit despondent and wondering as to what the point of anything is because there is nothing else left to think about.

I am homeless. My life, as I have known it, is over.