Jon Johnston

Variables – The Bane Of My Existence

tiny shells on a beach

I’ve been laid low by variables the last two Thursdays in a row.
Two weeks ago it was because I was trying to learn how to configure a new set of network switches I’d never before encountered. Tons of variables are involved. Tons of ethernet connections, virtual LANs, proper routing. There were multiple switches, and they all had to be configured to allow network traffic to flow properly throughout the organization.

For a comparison, think about how you would design roads in a city. You might think you could draw lines between points, connecting everything together and it would be fine. Connect a street or a highway between where people live and where they work. Connect another byway between where they shop and where they live and you’re done. Right?

Unfortunately, you have to think about flow. The key is bottlenecks. Where are the bottlenecks going to be? That’s going to be a problem. Think about your commute. Most of your commute might be okay except for two or three bottlenecks that consume massive amounts of time. That’s the biggest hidden obstacle to making network switches work – knowing where you’re going to have bottlenecks and building the system to avoid them.

It’s the equivalent of “Do I make this intersection a four-way stop, a roundabout, or put in a traffic light?” (If you’re a techie, it’s not, but just go with it.) All those street names, neighborhoods, intersections, transportation hubs, gathering spots – they are all variables to contend with.

I discovered my problem with variables when I was working on a migration project a couple years ago. I was using software specifically built to assist in the migration of computers from one environment to another. Part of the software included building profiles. The profile entry required many variables, and I had to remember them when I moved from completing one profile and moved to the next. It was exhausting. It puzzled me as to why. I finally got dual monitors so I could compare the profiles side by side and not have to remember so much between them. It was then I realized my issued with variables.

Handling gobs of variables wasn’t difficult previous to my brain injury.

Now, trying to hold the variables in my head simultaneously can give me extreme headaches. I can feel fatigue come on quickly. My brain pain increases. I try to stop it.
I meditate.
I take brief naps.
I go for a walk.
These are all tools to assist with the fatigue and pain. They are not a cure. I’ve been trying to rewire my brain to fix this for a few years now with no results.


A few years ago, I played “Tenzi” at a party. Each player has ten dice. You roll them repeatedly trying to get all the same number. The person who gets all ten the fastest wins. There are variations on the game, such as first to come up with five pairs.
I wondered if I could play. I tried. I mostly moved the dice around, trying to look like I was playing. I used my hands to shield the dice so no one would see them. I was awful. I don’t play card games anymore for the same reason. Trivia is mostly fine.

And fun. There aren’t variables.

The biggest mistake I made both Thursdays was trying to “power through” the brain pain. Instead of taking a break, I kept working on the network problem until I was mentally exhausted. It’s as if I ran my water well completely dry and had to wait for it to fill up again before I felt healthy enough to continue.

I’ve been diligent about discovering what triggers my fatigue and brain pain. Variables are amongst the top culprits. The biggest is lack of sleep.

This is how it goes with brain injuries; a never-ending exploration of discovery, faking parts of life, and doing your best to fit in.