why fitbit is still terrible

Not too long ago, I started using the Fitbit One. I’d been toying with the idea of buying one for a few months, and then a friend of mine purchased one. He told me all about the neat little features (minus the need to constantly sport a bracelet), and not long after, I too was basking in the glory of having my each and every step counted. Not only that, but I got to see how I measured up to my fellow Fitbitters, nearly step by step. I even started tracking my weight, diet and sleep habits, just to see how my diet, steps and sleep impacted my weight. In fact, I am wearing it right now. It’s beautiful having all of this data tracked.

But what is it really doing for me?

Some call this sort of digital fitness tracker a “glorified pedometer,” and in many ways, they are right. Aside from its ability to track my sleeping patterns (when expressly commanded to do so1), I could technically just wear an old-fashioned pedometer, then track my steps at the end of each day in an Excel spreadsheet. I could just use an iPhone app to track my sleeping patterns. I could even share this information with my friends, as annoying as that would be. Yet, the difference is that I wouldn’t. The convenience of this little device means that data gets tracked and I barely have to lift a finger. However, now that I have that data, I am left wanting more.

No, Fitbit, I am not blaming you; it’s not your fault. Quite the contrary — it’s my fault. As a consumer, I have essentially stated, “I need a sleek, out-of-the-way device that tracks my every move,” and then stopped there. What I should be saying is, “I need a convenient device that tracks me well and provides meaningful suggestions for me.”

Yes, just as I could wear an old-fashioned pedometer, I very well could just read the data that my wonderful device gives me and correlate it myself in order to extract some sort of useful information. Again, the difference is that I won’t. Why would I do something that could be done for me? The data is there, after all. Why not put it to work? For example, why can’t it tell me whether I sleep enough to be considered healthy, or when I should go to sleep based on my previous sleeping patterns if I want to get enough rest, or whether my step pattern indicates I’m not getting up from my seated position enough times per day. That’s useful information that could help me do my job better, develop fewer health issues and generally feel less stressed. I’m not asking for miracles here; I’m asking for information in the form of suggestions.

To me, there’s a difference between data and information. Data is unstructured facts and numbers; in essence, simply a log. On the other hand, information tells me what the data means, hopefully in the context of something I can understand. This is an extremely important distinction.

Looking at the Fitbit website, there are a number of items (data) I am currently able to log: Food, Activities, Weight, Sleep, Journal, Heart, BP (Blood Pressure) and Glucose. Out of those eight, one is technically automatic, and the other (sleep) is nearly automatic. The rest require external input. I’m not saying they should have packed all these features in as automatic; I understand the importance of doing a few things really well as opposed to doing many things not so well. However, I also understand incremental (read: slow and steady) changes for the benefit of a product.

Take the “Journal” feature, for example. On the Fitbit website, this screen asks me what my mood is, whether I’m suffering from allergies and asks me to write a nice little entry. In the blog entry they wrote on the subject, they highlight its usefulness:

Now you can track your mood, allergy level and generally record your daily observations with the new fitbit journal feature. And use the information you record to identify trends and correlate your sleep and mood with other factors that may be affecting your activity level.

Notice they don’t mention anything about their service correlating sleep, mood and other factors. They’re talking about me doing the work. Me. The guy who won’t even bother tracking my steps in an Excel spreadsheet. Again, I am understanding here. After all, how are they to get that sort of data out of the existing device? Unless it has a heart rate monitor built in that I don’t know about, I’d imagine the task next to impossible. Yet, I have seen small devices that track heart rate, so why am I hearing nothing about plans for this feature?

I’m not saying you can directly derive mood from heart rate2, but since the Fitbit is already talking to my iPhone, why not detect sharp changes in heart rate and then prompt me for my current mood? And sure, I can write a journal entry later if I feel like it. What’s important is that, at my discretion, mood can now be linked to heart rate, along with my sleeping and step patterns. Now, on top of the other examples given earlier, I can receive even better information: how my sleep patterns correlate to instances of anxiety or stress in a given day, how sleep length impacts happiness, how my level of activity impacts happiness, etc. I could go on with these examples. Why leave the correlating up to me? Sure, give us access to the data; I’m sure some people could come up with charts and graphs of their own to provide themselves with meaningful information, but not me.

And, of course, I know Fitbit works with the Aria Scale to track weight. I haven’t used it yet, so I don’t know whether it yields the kind of information I’m after, but given the rest of the Fitbit experience, I’d bet not.

If I’m not limiting myself to the real world, there is a magical device that tracks me, runs algorithms to determine optimal progress, then interacts with me non-judgmentally to work toward goals. If that means automatically tracking my daily activities, moods, heart rate, blood pressure, sleep patterns, glucose and cortisol levels3, so be it. That’s the future I want to live in, even if it takes a few device iterations to get there.

On the other hand, Fitbit, what’s stopping you from crunching some numbers in the mean time? While I’m waiting for the next tracking feature on your amazing little device, why not work on the information you’re providing to us through your service? I mean, the data is there for the taking. In my case, you’ve got three months work with.

But maybe I’m oversimplifying things. To me, it seems like you could do what Google does with search data to my fitness data. Why not run my seemingly simple information through a number of different algorithms to give me meaningful, tailored suggestions? It seems like the next logical step. And while I am still loyal to Fitbit, someone is bound to come along and do this even if you don’t. In fact, there’s really nothing stopping another company from using the data provided by Fitbit to grant my digital wishes.

Now there’s an idea.

 


 

  1. In order to put my Fitbit One in Sleep Tracker Mode, I must wear a special wrist band and, when I am about to sleep, press its little button for ~2 seconds to signal sleep readiness. Once I wake up, I hold the same button for ~2 seconds to signal the fact that I am now awake.
  2. In a study titled The Relationship Between Heart Rate and Mood in Real Life conducted by Derek W. Johnston and Pavlos Anastasiades, it was stated that, “Heart rate related to emotional state in very few subjects when time-series statistical methods, which take into account the autocorrelated nature of the data, were used.” To me, that says you can’t consistently determine mood from heart rate. Just saying.
  3. Have you heard of Cue? “Cue is a revolutionary new device that connects you to your health at the molecular level. Simply load a cartridge and add a sample to access deep information about your body, on demand and on your schedule. Discover every day how activity, food, and sleep shape your body’s story. And achieve meaningful, daily improvments to tell a new one.” Now that’s what I’m talking about.

maybe kids have it right

But the adult is not the highest stage of development. The end of the cycle is that of the independent, clear-minded, all-seeing Child. … Why do the enlightened seem filled with light and happiness like children? Why do they sometimes even look and talk like children? Because they are. The wise are Children Who Know. Their minds have been emptied of the countless minute somethings of small learning and filled with the great wisdom of the Great Nothing, the Way of the Universe.

Tao of Pooh, Benjamin Hoff

Don’t ask me why, but I don’t often find myself agreeing with Mark Zuckerberg. Call it a gut instinct, I suppose. However, after reading this short story titled, “Say what? Young people are just smarter” by Margaret Kane, I found myself partially agreeing with the guy but not for the same reasons. In the article, Zuckerberg talks about how people under 30 are “just smarter.” And while I’m sure anecdotally this is true in his eyes, overall I think he’s missing the point.

“I don’t know… Young people just have simpler lives. We may not own a car. We may not have family.”

There it is. Young people tend to have fewer things, fewer responsibilities, fewer elsewheres for their minds to drift to. While I don’t think this is a quality that is restricted by age, I do believe that people tend to collect distractions as they age. Coupled with self-doubt and a nice case of impostor syndrome, these distractions can cause an older person in a technical field to perform badly. The reality is that this type of stress can cause anyone1 to have reduced productivity.

What I believe, however, is that this stems more from our culture than from the magical number of 30. Sure, as the barrier to entry gets lower and lower, more young people have started to dominate the technology sector. I remember being eight or nine and sitting with my Dad while he would program, then later on I started writing my own programs. That felt like being ahead of the curve. And it was. At school, with friends, their families, I was the go-to computer guy. I was employed by my high school as the computer technician while attending! But now, I’m 31, and while I am still the go-to computer guy for some friends and family, there’s no denying that things have changed. There’s been a shift. My kids — six and three — are way ahead of the game. I’m sure by now you’ve witnessed a kid walking up to a TV or computer monitor and, with a look of puzzlement, wondering why there’s no response to their touch. Yet, put them in front of something they can actually use and it’s amazing. My three year old builds entire railroad systems on Minecraft using our iPad. So whether they even know it or not, they are learning the utter fundamentals to the way interfaces should work and programming logic. This isn’t to say that we old fogeys can’t do this very same thing. In fact, knowing this, I make it a point to sit with my kids and work in Minecraft, or their puzzle games, or any other app of the week, because it helps me while it spurs them on. But not everyone has the time or patience to even make an attempt to keep their finger on the pulse of the technological world.

Again, I believe the culture we live in is the cause.

Society is more than willing to give us a predefined bucket list. In fact, we are pressured to check as many things as possible off of that bucket list before we kick it. Especially in America, we live with a strong cognitive dissonance between “enjoy life to the fullest” and “work your fingers to the bone.” Part of the former is one of the many design patterns on society: Graduate High School > Graduate College > Get a Career > Get Married > Raise Kids > etc. I don’t know what you’d name this design pattern, but it might be something like the Standard Pattern, or the Default Pattern. While many choose other patterns, I am guilty of following the Standard Pattern, more or less2. However, I try not to let that hold me back but it’s almost impossible to compete with a younger person who hasn’t followed the same pattern. My ability and schedule to focus is set between my early morning runs and the hours my kids are in school or asleep. While I try not to let that impact my mental agility and focus, it obviously takes a toll. But that’s me. There are plenty of people who either know innately or who have discovered early on that children have it right. Children don’t want to be weighed down responsibilities or obligations; they want to be free to explore and build things. To give the dead horse a couple more kicks to the rib, children want to take the road less traveled because it’s amazing and potentially filled with treasure.

Taking the road less traveled3 isn’t just about thinking outside the box. It’s also about a road filled with fewer distractions. Obviously I have no real problem with the Standard Pattern as it is the path I chose, but I think it’s unnecessary and a bit forced. Perhaps the next generation realizes this. Life doesn’t have to be lived on the rails. We do need education and companionship, but it doesn’t have to fit into the same box society has created for us. Not everyone needs to get married, have kids, buy a fancy car and retire at age 65, with some variation along the way to make us unique. The value in being young is that you can choose early on to ignore societal pressure and just live simply, but that doesn’t mean the possibility is open only to young people. With enough dedication, anyone can do it.

 


 

Footnotes

  1. Of course, by “anyone,” I am referring to anyone qualified to work in the field. Don’t get technical on me.
  2. I didn’t fully graduate college, but I’m doing everything else. I’m not even mad.
  3. I realize Frost wasn’t actually talking about taking a road less traveled, but the arbitrary choice between two identical paths, but I went with the popular misconception. So sue me.

i’m an impostor and that’s okay

‘Cause you can’t get nobody being you.
You got to lie to get somebody.
You can’t get nobody looking like you look…
…acting like you act, sounding like you sound.
When you meet somebody for the first time, you’re not meeting them.
You’re meeting their representative.

Chris Rock, Bigger and Blacker

Of course, Mr. Rock is talking about relationships, but it also applies to nerds like me who suffer from impostor syndrome.

Recently, I read an essay by Nick Campbell, titled “Polymath the Impostor.” This really hits home for me, because I’ve been a long-time sufferer, despite having the knowledge that the syndrome exists. As Nick puts it, “despite any praise you receive or even a whiff of dissatisfaction from those in charge of your paycheck, you feel doomed to be found out.” Yes, this is the crux of it, but is it really so bad? I think most people are impostors. According to dictionary.com, the word ‘impostor’ means, “Pretending to be someone else in order to deceive others.” But don’t we do that as a means to aspiration? E.G. I aspire to become a great writer, so I do as writers do. To me, this means that anything we aspire to is a target that is constantly beyond our current grasp — an intentionally unreachable carrot on a stick of failure. (We could talk about all the pitfalls of constant dissatisfaction1 as well and how that’s considered by some to be poison, but I’ll leave that for another post.) So because we desire to be better at something, we start to learn about it. The more we learn, the more we figure out that we don’t know, but in order to move forward on the learning curve, we fake it.

Perhaps a fancier way to put things is that we channel traits and behaviors. It starts when we’re children. When I was little, I wanted to be a better and faster fighter than Bruce Lee — perfectly reasonable, right? — so I would watch his movies, as well as a variety of other movies2 and I would copy what I saw to the best of my ability. Believe it or not, I got pretty good and would often jump from tall objects and land in a split, causing adults to groan and probably question whether there was anything between the ground and where my body touched it. My friends and I would also perform all kinds of high and low kicks, jump kicks, spin kicks, somersaults and the like. Not that it would do any good against any opponent of Bruce Lee, let alone Bruce Lee himself, but it felt great snapping old fence boards in half. It’s a good thing boards don’t hit back3. Being an impostor was okay. It was because I channeled Bruce Lee and Frank Dux that I was able to achieve any sort of skill, despite realizing there was an ocean of difference between what they could do and what I could.

Maybe, then, the difference is in being paid to do something.

No one was paying me to spend hours of my day watching kung fu movies and practice my (probably embarrassing) moves, but I suppose if someone had, it would have been different. The focus would shift from learning for the sake of wanting to be something, and it would turn to being something for the sake of money, which means I get to buy stuff and keep buying stuff in the future. All of a sudden, there’s pressure to fit a job description and everything that entails. Now I have to shove aside pretending for the sake of just being better in order to pretend to actually be the complete version of something that fits nicely inside the job description. After all, no one wants to pay someone to learn on the job. The best candidate is the one who has all the skills and then some. But how could anyone have 100% of all the skills listed on a job application. Unless the listing is extremely short and to the point, I’d bet the answer is no one. So why do we write job descriptions that way? My guess is, much like people channeling the traits of heroes, we aim higher than where we intend our arrow to land.

Yet the unspoken expectation is that we are that person. Even though there’s a valley between where the expectation is and where we actually are, we are expected to act as if. Is it any wonder we feel the pangs of the impostor syndrome? It’s not that I’m assigning blame to the people above us — hell, they probably experience the same thing in one form or another — but I am saying that a reasonable person should not expect god-like knowledge in a job title. We are not omniscient beings, nor could we be even if we aspired to it. There is just far too much information to take in.

Looking at my Feedly, I currently see over 1,000 articles that I’ve yet to read from a handful of sources I’ve chosen in order to more easily digest information. This is to help me stay current, or in other words, maintain the facade of omniscience in my field. The trade-off is that I feel a ball of anxiety sitting somewhere in my brain — the knowledge that I have so much to learn today, which doesn’t include all the things I missed yesterday or will miss tomorrow. There’s just too much. I’m just one man. There are too many Bruce Lees now, and it’s important to realize that.

I’m an imposter and that’s okay. I won’t stop trying, but knowing this helps to soothe the nagging voice4 that tells me I’m not good enough and people are going to find out5. Beyond that, I’m lazy. I value happiness and tranquility over knowing everything, but I don’t mind taking short power walks on the unending treadmill of new information. I also don’t mind having a variety of interests. I’m sure it would bother some to know that I don’t have a few key subjects that I have mastered, but in the information technology field, mastering an entire subject is nearly impossible. We can master the basics, and then hold a solid grasp on aspects thereof, but since they are ever-changing and the “best practice” is a moving target, we are set up for failure if we hope to master all. When placed in this light, living up to every demand in our job description becomes less of a hard requirement and more of a nice-to-have. In fact, most of the time, us impostors just have to know how to Google It.

 


Footnotes. Because they’re amazing.
  1. As the Sunakkhatta Sutta puts it, “Craving is said by the Contemplative to be an arrow. The poison of ignorance spreads its toxin through desire, passion, and ill will.”
  2. I’m pretty sure, wherever they are, my VHS copies of Enter the Dragon, Bloodsport and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are stretched thin from all my repeated watching.
  3. This is a quote from Enter the Dragon, in case you were wondering.
  4. So far, I only hear one voice, but if I ever start to hear more, I’ll be sure to write a post about it.
  5. Certainly they already know. Someone once told me, “you’re the dumbest smart person I’ve ever met.” If I ever give into the voices, that person is first on the list.

 

icuremelanoma 5k results

iCureMelanoma 5K Results

While I’m not sure I’d call it my best time running a race, I feel like I did a fair job after rolling my ankle at the beginning of March. And while I was doing somewhere in the neighborhood of eight (8) minute miles when I last got into running, read Born to Run and was free to roam the flat, clean-enough-to-eat-off-of streets of Irvine, California, I am currently averaging about twelve (12) minutes per mile these days.

I’m sure my time would have been much improved had I not taken a few walking breaks during the more uphill-friendly parts of the race. Overall, I liked the course. I was able to zone out of what was going on around me and listen to RunKeeper giving me feedback on my pace. A few times, it was hard not to feel the pressure of other people running. The voice in my head was adamantly reminding me that I’d paid good money to test myself.

So to repay (or punish?) myself for all that walking, I decided to sprint the last half mile. I have been doing some sprinting during my weekly runs, and uphill of all things, but it has been 25 yards at most. I haven’t sprinted more than 50 yards in a few years, so I’m sure my body found this quite alarming. As I neared the finish line, I saw a nice lady running at a reasonable pace and decided I had to destroy her.

No, not … destroy, but just cross the finish line before her.

And I did! I think. In the end though, who really wins? The person who crosses the finish line first or the nice lady not barfing on the side of the road? Yup, that’s right. As it turns out, the best thing you can do after shocking your body with a sprint is to immediately stop and catch your breath through dry-heaving. While this may result in breakfast making a return appearance and generally feeling miserable, ultimately it means you can eat more.

At the end of the day, isn’t that what running is all about?

alone on the road – part 1

Alone on the Road
This short story was inspired by this image, titled “Alone on the Road” by Bastien Grivet. I saw this image posted on r/WritingPrompts by user maybeIfailed here. It’s been broken into two parts and I am almost finished with the second.

Jake sat down his morning coffee and plopped into his desk chair. Mornings were quiet. Peaceful, even. His favorite time to work, especially before all his coworkers came in. Unlike most of the people who worked at DualObis, Jake actually liked his job as a systems administrator. For a single guy, it paid well and there were benefits. Plus, work never followed him home. After 5:30 PM, he was free to do as he pleased.

Once his computer had booted up, a notice popped up on the screen.

REMINDER: MONTHLY SECURITY SCAN

Jake groaned. “Is it that time already?” Monthly security scans were mandatory, but definitely not something he enjoyed doing. After all, DualObis was a software company. It specialized in health and finance. Jake had seen the software. It was not much different from competitor software. Nothing worth filing a patent over, anyway. He could see no reason why anyone would care to break in, yet the responsibility fell in his lap.

He tapped a few keys and brought up the security scanning software, ArmaScan. Fast and effective, it was the best on the market and was generally known to be maintained by a group of black-hat-gone-whitehat hackers in Europe somewhere.

Jake sipped his coffee while the software updated itself. Once it was done updating, Jake set it to perform a full security scan of the entire network and its systems and hit ‘Go.’

After half an hour, it was done and displayed a final report. Everything looked normal, but he found a blinking red notice at the bottom:

HIDDEN HOSTS DETECTED: 6

He clicked on the number 6, which took him to a listing of six hosts and ports that he’d never seen before. “What the hell? That can’t be right.” Jake tried sending a simple ping to the host, wondering whether ArmaScan’s update had brought a few bugs along with it. Sure enough, the hosts responded and given the short response times, they were close. Probably inside the building.

By that time, a few people had filtered into the office, including Jake’s boss, Tom. Jake hit a button to print the contents of his screen and got up to show Tom what he’d discovered.

Tom was munching on a breakfast bagel, spilling crumbs all over his keyboard. He looked up from his display. “Jakey boy!”

Jake hated that, but forced a smile. “Hey Tom, I found something strange I thought you should see,” he said. “I told you, man. Stop using company ink for your porn collection.” Tom chuckled at his own joke as he looked over the paper. Somehow, Jake was able to keep from dying of laughter. “What is this?” Tom asked.

“It says it found six unexpected hosts, but they aren’t documented anywhere I can find and I’m pretty sure I haven’t seen them before. I pinged them and they’re real.” Tom’s expression changed, and he gave Jake a hard look, but then his smile returned. “Okay, Jakey boy. I’ll look into it.”

Jake returned to his desk, sipped his coffee but found it cold, and resolved to getting some work done before lunch time.

Ten minutes later, Tom poked his head out of his office and motioned for Jake. “Jakey!” Jake, still less than enthused by his nickname, shuffled his way back into his boss’s office.

“Good news, Jakey. This went all the way to the big man and he wants to see you.” Jake didn’t like the way Tom emphasized the words “big man.” It felt like he was going to have an impromptu meeting with God and he hadn’t prepared a speech. “Looks like you found something important for once,” Tom joked. “They want to see you up there right away. Sounds serious.” Tom’s eyebrows moved up and down.

As he made his way toward the elevator, Jake felt sick to his stomach. Today had started out so quiet. So peaceful. Now, all that was ruined. If Jake had it his way, he’d never have to interact with other people. People devoid of souls, anyway. This place was crawling with them. Feeling his palms start to sweat and his mouth starting to go dry, he scanned his badge and pressed the top button on the elevator.

After what felt like too short a time, the doors opened, but Jake’s legs didn’t want to move. The offices at the top of the building were completely different than the dreary, fluorescent-lighted rat’s maze of cubicles down below. These offices had glass walls, marble floors, normal lights and some kind of soft piano music that seemed to come from the walls. It was like a separate world.

Jake caught the doors as they were about to close again, and found it in him to step out of the elevator. No one was at the reception desk. “Hello? Anybody there?” he asked, then waited. There was no response. His heart was a drum and his stomach was a fist. Not seeing anyone, he darted for the elevator just as the doors were about to close again, just making it inside.

“Floor?” said a voice. Obviously startled, Jake’s attention snapped toward the man that was standing near the button console. Instantly, a thousand questions tried to squeeze through the thin door in his mind, the most obvious being: where the hell did this guy come from? Thinking it better to just leave that one alone, he finally responded, slightly out of breath. “Uh.. first floor, please.”

“Not a problem,” replied the man, who gave him a once-over and then pushed the button.

Now Jake’s mind was racing a bit. Who was this guy? Had he witnessed Jake’s awkward indecision? Did he know the CEO? Why was he on the top floor? His eyes were directed toward the ground while the elevator car moved slowly downward. Funny, it had seemed so fast on the way up, he thought.

He could feel the man’s eyes on him.

“Everything alright?” the man asked.
“I’m fine,” Jake responded. “Probably something I ate.”
“I see. And this wouldn’t have anything to do with Peterson wanting to see you this morning…”

Calvin Andrew Peterson was the name of the CEO. To his friends, he was Cal. To some, including those that didn’t necessarily think he was the best choice when he replaced the last CEO, he was just Peterson. Everyone else just knew him as the CEO.

That got Jake’s attention. His eyes looked up to meet the man’s. He was smiling. The elevator dinged. “You made the right choice.”

“Right choice? What do you mean? What choice?” asked Jake.

The man stepped out without responding, and quickly turned a corner out of sight. Jake felt cemented to the spot. What had seemed like simple cowardice now felt like a surreal connection between his gut instinct and a weird day spiraling out of control. He wanted to just get home and call in sick. Thankfully, he had some sick days left. Sometimes he needed to just disconnect and reset. That would do the trick.

As the doors were about to close, his focus returned to the ground. On the ground where the man had been standing, there was a key card. Jake tried to call out to the stranger, but the doors had already closed. Thinking he might be on some kind of camera, he shifted over until he was standing over the card, dropped his chap stick, then knelt down to pick it up, grabbing the card at the same time.

The key card had looked just like Jake’s. Well, it was the same shape, but it was obviously the card of someone important. Someone with a much higher security clearance. For starters, it was black, and Jake’s was white. It had the man’s picture on it, his name, his title, a few number sequences and not much else.

Joseph Lazarus
CSO, R&D

The elevator gave another ding as the doors opened again. Jake had reached the ground floor. He lifted his head and his heart skipped a beat. Not more than twenty feet in front of him stood the CEO surrounded by an entourage of security. They were discussing something with the lady at the front desk. She was shaking her head no. Jake’s hand instinctively reached for the Close button on the elevator panel, which he pushed repeatedly. As he did so, the woman’s eyes found Jake as he moved against the wall and out of direct line of sight. The doors began to close as heard a few voices bellow in unison, “HEY KID, STOP! WE JUST WANT TO-” Their voices trailed off as he began moving upward. Jake pushed the button for the top floor and had to use the wall of the elevator for support.

What the hell could they possibly want now? Jake wondered. Now he just wanted to get out of there. He wanted this to all blow over, but he felt trapped. This all seemed so silly. Logic told him he wasn’t going to be in any real trouble. They probably just wanted to talk to him about what he found. But what if that wasn’t it? What if he had seen something he wasn’t supposed to? What would they say about his card? How was he going to get out of this?

As if on cue, the elevator came to a halt. He had reached the twentieth floor, but panel went blank and the car began moving down again. Jake tried the buttons for any of the floors above floor 20, but none would work. Floor twelve. He tried pressing the emergency stop. Floor seven. Still, nothing worked. The car continued downward. Then he remembered the CSO’s card. Floor three. He looked for the slot, found it and inserted the card. The elevator stopped abruptly, almost causing him to fall over. There was a continuous buzzing noise. The panel of buttons lit back up again, only this time, there was one more button than before. Where did you come from? he thought.

With a surreal day becoming more-so unreal by the second, Jake had lost some sense of hesitation. He pushed the new button and stepped back, but nothing happened. Then he remembered the buzzing noise. He pulled the emergency stop button out and the buzzing stopped. He tried the button again, and it lit up. The car lurched downward for a moment, and then smoothly continued on past the first floor, passing the basement parking levels and landed on the mysterious unmarked floor. There was a soft ding and the doors opened.

Peeking his head out and seeing no one around, Jake stepped sheepishly out of the elevator.

He stepped into what appeared to be some kind of cross between a break room and a locker room. Lab coats hung on hooks. There were boxes of surgical supplies — gloves, masks and little shoe covers. There was also a coffee maker and a refrigerator. Near a door to his left, there were hand and eye washing stations. There were a number of posters on the walls with everything from safety information to a poster that looked like someone had held onto it from World War II that read, “Loose Lips Might Sink Ships” with a burning ship sinking into an ocean. Comforting, he thought.

Not wanting someone to come through the door, see him and immediately call security, Jake decided to try to blend in somehow. At this point, his expectation to get out of this without being fired or … worse, was … pretty close to zero. He put on a lab coat, some goggles, some booties, even a surgical hat, then picked up a clipboard.

Jake looked for a knob on the door, or some kind of handle, but found none. Instead, there was a scanning device next to the door. He fished for the CSO’s badge, and tried it. The little light on the device turned green and the doors slid noiselessly open.

Stepping into the room and onto a grated floor, the door closed behind him, and what seemed like an enormous fan came to life above his head. It seemed to replace all the air in the room and after a few seconds, it stopped and the door in front of him slid open.

Directly to his left and right were unmarked doors with badge scanners next to each. In front of him was a hallway lined with large windows, three on each side. In front of the windows was railing. Everything seemed blindingly white and, at first, his eyes needed to adjust to it. As he came to the first window, he looked inside and noticed a very large room that must have stopped ten or fifteen feet below him. The room contained what looked like some kind of futuristic gun attached to a machine set to fire it repeatedly. Each time the gun went off, it gave off no fire or smoke, but there was a large WHOOMP sound. Ten feet in front of it, there was a thick steel wall that shook furiously with each pulse, then emmitted sparks. There was a clock above the gun that read: 115 days, 15 hours, 23 minutes and 47 seconds that was counting upward.

Jake looked up at the window, which had a label. The label had a title along with some information, “SH.R.I.M.P. Cannon.”

“The SHort Range Ion Magnetic Pulse Cannon, or SHRIMP Cannon, will incinerate any biological entity within 100 meters’ range with its narrow 2″ beam. Time between charge and pulse is down to three seconds from ten in previous models, with the added bonus of having no overheating effect. As with previous models, there is no external energy required.”

Jake blinked. In his mind, he was contrasting what he was witnessing with what he knew about life at DualObis and they were like puzzle pieces that did not want to fit together, and yet here they were. His eyes scanned over the description for the cannon once again and the words, “biological entity” stood out. He kept running that over in his mind, not wanting to let the reality of that word bubble up to the forefront, but again — there it was. His eyes looked down to where the front of the steel wall was being repeatedly blasted with some kind of energy beam. In front of the wall was a pile of ashes. Realization hit him like a punch to the gut. He felt sick. He wanted to just wake up.

Just then, there was a DING from down the hall. The elevator doors slid open.