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Charlie Hatton
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Howdy, friendly reading person!
I'm on a bit of a hiatus right now, but only to work on other projects -- one incredibly exciting example being the newly-released kids' science book series Things That Make You Go Yuck!
If you're a science and/or silliness fan, give it a gander! See you soon!

Blue Suede SHUTIT!

(If you like science so much, why don’t you marry it? Or just read about it, over at Secondhand SCIENCE! That’ll save you the cost of a ring, and a caterer for the reception!

This week, we’re doing some ketone learning. Like what ketones have to do — or very much do not have to do — with subway buskers, Star Wars beasties and horrifying novelty cookie flavors. Fun!)

Context is pretty important.

The lesson soaked into my brain a few years ago, and I think it’s necessary to keep in mind if you want to have perspective on… well, anything, really. Nothing exists in a vacuum, and when you try to look at something as though it did exist in a vacuum, it doesn’t mean anything.

Douglas Adams pointed this out very nicely, when he confidently reported that the ultimate answer is 42.

Yeah, okay. But what the hell was the question?

(Nobody knows. Except maybe the mice, and they’re not squeaking.)

Now, saying that context is important is just another way of saying you don’t believe in absolutes. And I’ve already said that, so I won’t rehash the philosophical ramifications of this way of thinking. Instead, I’ll just complain about how rarely context seems to be taken into account, even when what it’s telling you is patently obvious.

This applies not just to people, but also the computers and software and gizmos that people create. Like a Fitbit. More specifically, like my Fitbit, on Wednesday morning.

First, I’ll give you some context. I have to tell you about the context, because you’re not nestled in my pocket for eighteen hours a day to see it for yourself.

(At least, I hope you’re not. Or we both have a lot of explaining to do to quite a few people. Like my wife. And my pants.)

The Fitbit, however, is along for the ride through pretty much all my waking hours, and should — should! — thus be familiar with what I’m about to tell you:

I’m fairly lazy.

This should come as little surprise to most anyone who knows me well. I’m not terminally lazy, much, on most non-weekend days. And I’d prefer to walk than drive, when it’s feasible. And I play the occasional fat old man sport, like softball or bowling or complaining about the kids today. But generally speaking, I don’t mind lounging. Sitting is nice. Being horizontal, even more so. I’m not running marathons, just because “the road is there“, you know?

The Fitbit is aware of this. I do sometimes hit my ten thousand step daily goal — and sometimes, I do not. Some days, it’s more like seven thousand. Some Sundays, more like five.

(NFL Sundays, maybe four and a half. The Red Zone network is seven straight hours of game time, commercial-free. I’m lucky if I make it up to pee while that circus is going on.)

I’ve had the Fitbit for over a year now, so it’s pretty clear on my usual schedule, and the steps (literally) I’m willing to take for fitness. Seven or eight thousand a day, on average — and preferably starting at noon. The Fitbit knows. Or it should. But that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Maybe I’d walked the distance Elvis’ hips had cumulatively gyrated all those years. Could be. I don’t know things.”

On Wednesday morning, I woke up as usual and shuffled bleary-eyed to my phone, to see what I’d missed in the sleeping time. One of the first emails I saw was from Fitbit, congratulating me on earning my first “Blue Suede Shoes” badge.

Great, I thought. The company periodically calculates that you’ve walked the length of the Great Wall of China, or as far as Alpha Centauri and back or whatever, and sends out badge emails to commemorate the milestone. I wasn’t sure why a pair of suede shoes qualified, but maybe it was just a clever name. Maybe I’d walked the distance Elvis’ hips had cumulatively gyrated all those years. Could be. I don’t know things.

But then I saw this was a daily badge, issued to honor some personal achievement set in a single calendar day. I thought back to Tuesday. I remembered, like, fourteen steps all day. I drove to work. I hid under my desk all day, crying in the fetal position as usual. Then I drove home and watched nine hours of the Simpsons, because it’s always on now. It’s a beautiful time to be alive. But I didn’t set any distance records that day.

I read further, and found that the BSS badge wasn’t issued for Tuesday accomplishments, anyway, but Wednesday’s. And it celebrated a daily total of sixty thousand steps. In one day! That’s, like, thirty miles. And it was a quarter til eleven in the morning. My question, at this point: whaaaaaa?

Eventually, I pieced together the problem. I sleep with a fan on, because I like the noise. And the cool air. And the whooshing feeling, like you’re one of the people in those old Peppermint Patty commercials or something.

I keep the Fitbit on my dresser, with my wallet and keys and extraneous pocket lint. But I don’t always see exactly where I’m putting things, and on Tuesday night, the Fitbit wound up sitting perched atop my wallet. Somewhat unstably, evidently. Best I can figure, the wind from the fan blew the device back and forth all night, racking up “steps” the whole time. From the time I turned in, around 2am, until I woke up, it had recorded constant and rapid movement and credited me with walking — or running — all those steps. Before noon.

Like, seriously?

This is where “context” is important. I’ve never walked sixty thousand steps since I’ve had that silly doodad in my pocket. I’ve never even cracked twenty — probably in my life. I was chased — mildly chased, but still — by a small bear on a hiking vacation in Montana a couple of years ago, and I doubt I walked twenty thousand steps that day.

Also, even if I did? Before noon: zero. If humans were meant to be active before twelve thirty in the afternoon, then Taco Tuesdays would start at nine AM. I’m just saying.

For my Fitbit — a near-constant companion for the last eighteen months, and a device built specifically to track how I’m exercising — to believe that I was busting my walking hump for seven hours straight during prime sleeping time is ludicrous. It should know better.

And don’t tell me maybe it thought I was sleepwalking. Because fine, maybe that’s a way to slip a few extra steps on the odometer. But we’re talking about sixty thousand steps. That’s not sleepwalking, that’s sleep-Bataan death marching.

Normally, I wouldn’t be so worked up about this sad-sack stroll-o-meter going haywire. But that’s a hell of an impressive badge I didn’t earn — and a hugely higher bar than the ones I have. Now the Fitbit’s going to be referencing my lone impressive “accomplishment”, and berating me for not climbing that (Kilimanjaro-sized) mountain again:

“Hey, why don’t you walk sixty thousand steps like that day last week?”
“Remember that time you walked sixty thousand steps? Like, where did that go?”
“Yo, lardass. Those sixty thousand steps ain’t walking themselves today. Chop chop.”

I don’t need that kind of pressure. Nor the monumental lack of context needed to believe I’m capable of walking sixty thousand steps in a morning. Or a week. Or without a chauffeur, nine cheeseburgers and a total skeletal muscle transfusion. And now every decent milestone I might ever hit will pale in comparison to this “blue suede” boondoggle.

And all for the want of a little bit of context. Or one line of simple code:

if < noon && steps.detected, SNOOZE ONE HOUR

I mean, that’s my strategy when I wake up in the morning. I’m sure it would apply here, too. After all, it’s a pretty solid plan. Even if the context is just a little bit different.

(See what I did there, Fitbit? Bite me.)

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Favorite Posts:
30 Facts: Alton Brown
A Commute Dreary
A Hallmark Moment
Blue's Clues Explained
Eight Your 5-Hole?
El Classo de Espanol
Good News for Goofballs
Grammar, Charlie-Style
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  09/06/04: Connection

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