A Lesson From Computers About Life; Computers (Post 1)

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So, a fun hobby soon to be a little freelance venture of mine, is computers, specifically building them.  A junior college near where I lived when I was about 12 offered a summer course where they taught you how to build one in preparation for you getting an A+ certification as a computer technician.  My family were really big fans of Apple Computers and it always frustrated me at the time that everything about computers I was interested in seemed to be for PCs.  Considering I was 12 at the time I didn’t really get my A+ certification after that course, but a fascination with computers has been with me ever since, and in indulging that fascination have found some rather interesting bits of knowledge about how to handle life in general.  To begin, I want to start with a quote by Steve Jobs that I think sets the tone for the rest of the post.

“Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it… Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again”

I remember being very inspired by that quote the first time I heard it.  I thought very similarly about the world around me so it was validating to learn about a kindred spirit in that regard.  Over time I have found that computers are a wonderful case study or example of this concept and I wanted to elaborate on that a little.  Computers become much less mysterious when you begin to realize that they are just tools made by people, to help people.  However, I think something that expounds on that a little is that because computers are made by people, they are a bit like people.  In that way, understanding how they work is a little like understanding a part of ourselves and at least for me has actually been rather therapeutic.

Today I just want to talk about one facet of this, heat and why it’s relevant.  When a computer gives or receives information, it is sending electrical signals through a processor.  A small study in how electricity behaves, we learn that as it moves through material it generates heat.  Heat, although very good for allowing things to move more quickly, also can potentially change the composition of material and therefore cause things to malfunction or even break down.  In this way, engineers have to not only be very careful about the kinds of materials they use in electronic components, but also in how much electricity and information those components are allowed to handle.  Heavy use of high quality materials however, can cause components in a computer to be undesirably expensive.  Considering all these things, a genuinely good computer is something that is almost exquisitely crafted in order to achieve a good balance of quality, performance and cost.

A good computer used outside its designed parameters however, can still malfunction and break down due to the excessive heat it generates.  Scientists, engineers, and enthusiasts love seeing the limits and capacities of things, and there are many events where people push computers so far beyond their intended capacity that they use things like liquid nitrogen and even liquid helium to keep the computer from spontaneously bursting into flames.   Like the processor in a computer our own minds generate heat as we process information, and can malfunction or break down if we try making it work harder than we’ve designed it.

Why? well while we experience life, the brain creates these amazing sort of highways called synapses in order to find order and therefore understanding in the information it’s being given.  These are very essential building blocks for unlocking our mind’s capacity and the more synapses your brain makes with a particular subject, the better you understand it and your capacity to grow that understanding accelerates.  This is how we design our mental computers so to speak.  We upgrade our processors by forming more synapses in our brains.

When our brains are congested with information, they try and speed up in order to process the information faster.  This is one of the reasons why in really intense or dangerous moments you recall and perceive the event almost like it happened in slow motion, it’s mainly just because your brain was working faster in that moment.  However, there are times when even with a boost of speed our mind isn’t equipped to handle certain kinds or amounts of information.  Have you even been stressed, anxious or worried about something so much that you get a headache and you sort of feel hot?  In my own experience up at school, I recall many instances where, because I struggled with depression, by the time I was finally motivated to work on an assignment it was usually too late and I would try to work so quickly that my head would get so hot I would actually go outside in the snow to cool off or open the windows of my room to make it around 40°F.  inevitably though I couldn’t keep that up for too long and my mind would breakdown and it would usually take hours if not most of my day to mentally clean my brain up.  By then, I would be late and I would have to beg my professors for the chance to make up the assignment which resulted in me eventually doing A grade work, but with C grade if not sometimes D grade results.  Experiencing that day after day formed new synapses in my brain that triggered anxiety and a lot of self-loathing which eventually caused some pretty extensive damage to myself mentally and emotionally.  Soon I wasn’t really having much a any success because I kept sabotaging myself with this described behavior.  I could put together that what I was doing wasn’t healthy, but I couldn’t really put my finger on what to actually do about it.

It sort of dawned on me a little while back while working on a computer and if I were to summarize what I took from the train of thought I had it would go something like this:

  • Just because you can go full speed doesn’t mean it is wise to do so all the time, your mind will eventually break down.
  • If you do find yourself trying to do too much, it is wise to stop for a moment and reevaluate your approach instead of trying to just muscle through it.  There is some high risk involved with powering through things if you’re not in a healthy place mentally.
  • If you have overstepped your bounds and have broken down, allow yourself the time a resources to fix yourself and get yourself fully operational again.  In a broken state there is almost no use in trying to resume your normal life until you’ve sorted out the damage you’ve experienced
  • Finally, try to achieve balance among your tasks.  Yes, it would be great to drop everything and fix ourselves perfectly whenever we break down, but many of us have obligations and responsibilities that we can’t just abandon completely.  So the art in all of this is sorting out what we are capable of in the state we currently find ourselves in and then do our best no matter how trivial or insignificant it may seem.

I hope that no matter where you the reader finds yourself that this was of some help, even if it was just an interesting thought to consider.  If your interested in reading more I plan on posting roughly every other day on my blog and eventually start doing project logs of some of my computer builds.  Either way hope you’re having a great day and I hope to see you around.

Jordan Dunford (weRDunfo)

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