On rebooting and Zen

Cartoon of a devil's arm and tail coming out of a computer

Zen: A form of Buddhism. Also used to describe a state of peaceful calm.

As the year winds down, the pace winds up. It leaves most of us feeling distinctly non-Zen.

The Zen of Python

My pilot couse, Jumpstart Python Programming, ended this week. I don’t present courses that often anymore, and I’d forgotten how much I enjoy it. So I had lots of fun (and I hope my delegates did too).

While preparing for the course, I remembered the “Zen of Python”. This is a real thing. If you don’t know what it is, you can check out my previous blog post about The Zen of Python).

There is a great explanation by Al Sweigart of the Zen of Python. In particular, I love his explanation for one ofthe rules:

“Computers have made humans superstitious: To exorcise the demons in our computers we perform the sacred ritual of turning them off and then on. Supposedly this will fix any mysterious problem.”

He goes on to a more prosaic explanation:

“However, computers are not magic. If your code isn’t working, there is a reason and only careful, critical thinking will solve it. Refuse the temptation to blindly try solutions until something seems to work; often you have merely masked the problem rather than solved it.”

If you don’t know what to do, reboot

The idea of exorcising the computer demons by rebooting amused me. And it’s true. It’s almost the first thing any support technician tells you to do. And we are quick to do it ourselves when we have a hardware or software problem. If you don’t know what to do, reboot.

There are some problems with this approach. It often doesn’t solve the problem. And it destroys any attempt at a Zen state of mind. I get quite agitated when I phone a support centre and get this advice. (Because I’ve already tried it!)

In fact, I recently revised my opinion about Amazon customer service. I had a problem with my Kindle Unlimited account, which I could reproduce on both my Kindles. The call center operators suggested the following:

  1. Rebooting both devices. Because if I can replicate it, somehow switching it on and off will make a difference.
  2. Logging out on the Kindle. Which is technically impossible to do.
  3. Unlinking the Kindle. A step beyond rebooting.
  4. Deleting my account. Really? Words fail me.

I refused to do steps 3 and 4. That was going beyond exorcism – more like following the demon all the way back to hell. Very unZen.

When you can’t reboot

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could reboot things other than devices?

The term “reboot” does not come from the desire to apply one’s foot violently to an uncooperative machine (or person). Although the emotions associated with both violence and rebooting are often quite similar.

So what do we do when we can’t reboot? Many people advise meditation. I haven’t got the hang of that, so I’ll go with Sweigart’s advice. Keep calm and think. And if thinking doesn’t solve the problem, there’s always chocolate.

So how do you get your Zen back when rebooting fails?

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