The streak starts now (or soon)

By Chuck Sigars | Mar 27, 2013

Of all the technology terminology that has wound its way into our everyday conversations, “reboot” is my favorite. Even if you don’t know anything about computers, you’re probably familiar with the term.

“Reboot” is often used as a synonym for “boot,” although the prefix is there for a reason.

To “boot” a computer is to start it (the etymology in all things technological can be a little fuzzy, but it’s generally accepted that “boot” comes from the idea of pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps; a computer starts up as tiny lines of code begin to stir other software programs to life. It’s a self-starter, in other words).

To reboot is to turn it off and start it again, which coincidentally is the answer to 93 percent of all computing problems.

But I like the word for its implications, as it’s used in non-computing circles. It’s not just about starting over; it’s about clearing our caches, tossing out garbage, getting rid of old ideas and models and beginning fresh. I like the concept.

I note that this doesn’t carry over into many other things we turn on. We don’t talk about re-vacuuming the carpet, although one hopes that’s exactly what we’re doing (I’m not talking about my house. Some things you don’t want to know).

We don’t re-mow the lawn, re-walk the dog, or re-flush the toilet. The repetition is understood.

And we don’t re-start the car. We just start it, or in my case it starts up sort of by itself. At one point, as a teenager, I had a vague idea about spark plugs and carburetors and combustion, but I haven’t been a teenager in a long time and I assume the technology has been updated. For all I know my car is started by satellite.

That doesn’t keep me from pretending, because I’m a guy. Jerry Seinfeld did a joke about this years ago. If your car doesn’t start, even the most mechanically-disinclined male-type person will at least open the hood.

Seinfeld wondered what it was that we expected to see. “A giant on/off switch set on OFF?” he suggested.

This was a typical Seinfeld observation, a talent for noting the dumb things we do and making them funny, although I suspect it would be wrong to assume that it comes spontaneously.

Some people are naturally funny, and others work at making it look easy, and my guess is that Seinfeld is more of the latter.

We got a glimpse into the Seinfeld work ethic, in fact, from a software developer named Brad Isaac, who years ago was trying his hand at being a comic and ran into Mr. Seinfeld backstage at a comedy club.

Asking for advice, Isaac learned Seinfeld’s method for continually writing new material. Seinfeld put a big calendar up on the wall, and each day that he wrote he marked a big “X” on the calendar with red magic marker.

After a few days, there would be a chain of X-days, and Seinfeld’s secret was simple. “Don’t break the chain,” he told Isaac.

I liked this idea as soon as I heard it. I’m a big believer in incremental steps, in letting the calendar do the heavy lifting, so when I found out that someone had developed a smartphone app that applied the Seinfeld Don’t Break The Chain philosophy, I got it.

I could have just bought a big calendar and a red magic marker, but then there are so many things I need to change, vacuuming the carpet being only one of many. I would have needed a lot of calendars.

I try to keep my personal list of daily tasks short, although it’s personal and might not match up with yours. Some are ordinary; I like checking off daily exercise, taking a multivitamin to make up for my pathetic diet, and a couple of household maintenance items.

Since I work at home, though, it seemed a good idea to make sure I didn’t neglect some personal maintenance either, so brushing my teeth and showering are on my list as well. It’s easy to put some things off when you don’t have to interact with other humans that much, and teeth don’t brush themselves.

None of these necessarily will make me a more productive person, but I get a small sense of accomplishment at crossing them off and noting how many days in a row I’ve done a certain task (I’m on a big showering streak at the moment).

Why stop with things I’m supposed to do, though? How about the opposite side of the coin? Maybe I should attempt a chain of days of not doing something, I thought, and I knew exactly where to start.

I have a weakness for ice cream, “weakness” being a much nicer way to describe the relationship than “pathology.” No day is too bad or too good that ice cream won’t make a big difference, and I tend to be a little compulsive, which is itself a much nicer word than “crazy.”

So I’ve decided to start a chain of ice cream-free days. Probably today. This week sometime, surely. I look forward to seeing all those digital red “X” marks, knowing that my blood sugar will thank me and my jeans will fit better, and I will owe a debt to Jerry Seinfeld.

And who knows where this will lead? I’m pretty sure we own a vacuum cleaner, and in fact I’m almost certain it has an on/off switch that’s been set on “off” for too long.

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