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20 September 2009

Reprogramming - changing the sequence

The real value of a computer is not just that it can do certain types of things, over and over, with a very high accuracy rate. We talk about faster and faster computers, and while speed is important, what a computer does comes down to what it is programmed to do. As you get down to the lower levels of what the software executing on a computer does, you have to start dealing with when thing happen, in addition to the what. There are only so many machine cycles available per second, just as there are only so many seconds in the day. One second is like any other, but one second in the morning is different than one second in the afternoon.

Computers are useful because they can do things fast, but they are practical because they can be reprogrammed. Instructions can be changed, a little or a lot, and tasks can be scheduled to happen when they are the most efficient. On large systems, some things have to be done in real time. Some things have to be done in a certain order. Some things are more efficient when done at night, and some are better off being done during the day. A well engineered system does the right things right, at the most efficient times to do them.

That being said, a person-- especially a student-- is not a computer. Students have a lot in common with computers. We have things that need to be done, often quickly, always correctly, and at the right times of day/night. You will not do well on an assignment that you schedule to do at 0400 on the same morning you were out doing jello shots at 0200.

College, with the addition of PTSD to deal with, is not a digital application. A computer works with signals that look like square waves, like pictured here. A signal is either on, or off; high or low, one or zero, yes or no. Inside a computer, if a certain operation needs to happen every 120 cycles, then that's when it happens. But college isn't like that-- a student always has a schedule, with dates and times and places that said student needs to appear. Success depends on going to class, showing up for lab, getting to the library to study. But even though classes follow a regular schedule, things have to slide around a lot. Assignments are different from week to week, day to day, chapter to chapter. Other things like work get in the way.

One good way to deal with PTSD is stay focused; follow a schedule, maintain a task list, keep a routine, stay within a comfort zone. College just isn't that way, though-- you have to be able to adapt, constantly, to requirements that change constantly. But-- PTSD makes you react badly to sudden noises, and sudden changes. Stress is magnified-- you don't just stress a little because you have an assignment due, you stress as if your life is on the line. And then you react to the stress, and one of the main ways PTSD makes you react, is that you avoid the situation.

My situation, right now, is that I started the semester with a program for how to do things-- a set of instructions to follow. Certain things will happen at certain times, I'll do this homework here, and that homework there. A few weeks into the semester, that plan has failed and needs to be changed. But-- and this is crititcal-- while I need to make some changes, the world is not ending and I'm not going to die. I have to actually make the changes, and I have to ask for some help with a few things, but this is not a situation that I have to run away from. I have to adapt, I have to rewrite my program.

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