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Flare ups Friday

Posted by James Dubois in CHOIRS, Tech.
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Solar flares have interfered with our communications to and from Earth, resulting in our plans for spin-up to fall back a few days. The relay is powered down to 10% while we perform diagnostics but we hope to be at peak transmission rate as soon

Engineering update is as usual: progress is slow but work continues non-stop. The robots are out-performing their specifications, thanks to our crack programming staff. The drones are working in concert now, much like a flock or birds can anticipate the actions of its individual members, whereas before it was linear behavior before. Much like our own social interactions, they’ve learned to pick up the slack if one member falls behind rather than act in a structured, pre-defined hierarchy.

The “Alexandra Effect” continues. Four more members of the CHOIRS communications team have defected to Sasha’s MRCZ. They call themselves “Jolly Donut” and even fashioned a flag (a donut and crossbones, which I will upload soon). I heard a rumor that they’re drafting a constitution based on the Pirate Party. I spoke to Guy about it and he said there won’t be any rules other than “work hard and have fun.” Hmmm… we’ll see about that. Multi-national? More like micro-national. A country of nine.

One of the botanists started his own MRCZ called “The Garden Party.” They’re increasing crop yield with various colors of LEDs and hybridizing plants that do better in blue-red spectrum light. One of their many projects, I’m told. Well as long as they get their normal work in on time. My wife, being an avid gardener, is interested in helping them with building some mini-greenhouses out of storage materials that we no longer need.

Sjon’s book “The Signal” that chronicles his life in micro-gravitational environments is still selling like mad. Last night I checked the bestseller’s list it was in the top-10 for non-fiction. He’s an interesting character and we’ve had many spirited conversations in the mess. He was born outside Gothenberg and is the younger brother of Jens Jensen, the guy I used to work with in the early days at ID&E (Sjon has six brothers and sisters, which astounds me… no wonder he’s so good at resolving conflict). Anyway, he’s working on a new book about CHOIRS, spurred on by the personnel issues that arose within the last year as we emerged from the pods. This is when he and the medical team aren’t working on their stem cell research. Post spin-up, once the medical labs are installed and in operating mode, they want to use some of the current research into universal blood types and cellular transplantation to create organic replacement parts. This has been in development on Earth for quite some time but space-based research is starting to catch up and overtake its terrestrial counterpart.


Preparing for spin-up Tuesday

Posted by James Dubois in CHOIRS, Tech.
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The big news on the lifeboats is that Sasha was pardoned. We pulled her in on a last-minute jam session to get the relay up to power and she was invaluable. So, after a brief meeting, the decision to release her from confinement was unanimous. She’s in good spirits overall and has dived headfirst back into life aboard the ‘boats to reunite with her fellow merczers (merciers?). MRCZ culture is spreading across the station as our old way of doing things falls by the wayside. The new ad-hoc structure is maddening to get used to but it’s so nice to get my hands dirty again, mathematically-speaking. I don’t think large amounts of experience and technical knowledge are the best qualifiers for managing people with large amounts of experience and technical knowledge. I’m a great engineer. I’m not stellar with people. Go figure.

That said, I’m acting as in concordance with Gregor, Jürgen, Sam (from Ops) and Andre (from Comm) to manage my projects (which, thanks to this new structure, have doubled). I provided the engineering background and they assist with shepherding the projects. We’ve finished the Big Mirror and will maneuver it into position once the station begins its rotation to avoid any threat of collision. The days until spin-up can now be counted on both hands and some toes. Greg’s extraction team is processing megatons of regolith and the massive moon-crete plates are locking into the outer ring. As the shield is immobile, it’s not necessary to complete it by spin-up but his team is going for broke so they can begin processing and fabricating of structural materials for inside the superstructure. I

Speaking of fabrication, the materials team have figured out a hack for the heat problem that was plaguing our prototype fabricators. The initial plan was for a relatively small machine to output carbon and oxygen from waste CO2. Oxygen would output into collection tanks while the carbon would be assembled into nanotubes and used for materials production. Unfortunately, this required incredibly large and complex “shells” to cool down the fabricators. Tens of thousands of mechanical parts moving every second was creating terrific amounts of waste heat. Rather than use a traditional molecular method of assembly, we’re now using controlled electro-chemical reactions to shuttle parts to various parts of the assembler. We’re getting results, slowly but surely. Within the year we hope to be producing extruding simple objects (beams, struts, etc.) from base matter leftover from the mining operations on Titan, Tethys and Mimas.

Our monthly town hall meeting is in a few hours. I need to prepare my notes and finish some reading before it starts up. Take care, everyone.

– Hersh

Medical Update Friday

Posted by James Dubois in CHOIRS, Medical Update.


This is Dr. Saif Answar, chief of surgery for the CHOIRS program. Dr. Dubois asked me to post an update in his online journal concerning the status of health and wellness aboard the transports.

As we begin the preliminaries for the spin-up of the space station, exercise regimens have been strengthened and redoubled. Aerobic exercise and anaerobic exercise not only helps keep cardiovascular health and muscle tone, it increases osteoblast/bone cell production. To further combat bone density loss, we’re administering vitamin and mineral supplements, as well as hydroxyapatite in capsule form. The low-sodium, vegetarian diet continues and we’ve achieved a very low percentage of CHOIRS personnel suffering from various condition such as uric acid and calcium oxalate stones.
Dietary restrictions due to economics of space, cost and time will ease after spin-up and progression from the life modules to permanent shelters. Aero- and hydroponic gardens will produce approximately 35% of our food supply within the first four months, with that number climbing in the subsequent months as we move from our travel diet to our orbital diet. Our current gardens have provided much in the way of nutritional and psychological succor*

Over the course of our seven-year mission, nutritional demands have been met and meal plans have garnered a satisfactory rating from the crew and passengers. Food rationing is not expected to occur and CHOIRS residents can expect to continue to receive four meals per day and a minimum of 2.75 liters of water. James has already addressed one concern sent to us but I wish to reiterate that yes, we are allowed to make coffee and we do possess the necessary supplies and equipment to do so.

Personnel afflicted with ARS are now in cryonic stasis and these individuals are stable condition with no cellular deterioration. We expect 80% survivability with no loss of physical or mental ability. Individuals of advanced age (60+ years) may suffer long-term conditions resulting from the process. Please note that although it’s been popularized in the System media as “reversible death,” the subjects are not deceased, they are merely in a state of suspended function. Senescence is effectively halted while within the cryonic pods. Active individuals diagnosed with CRS show a decrease in blood cell count and increased cell mutation but we have instated a course of action to combat these problems with pharmacological agents, diet and exercise.

Psychological profiles are by and large stable. The residents of CHOIRS were pre-selected according to several criteria, one of which was mental health and stability. We have incidents of depression, sleep disorders, seasonal affective disorder and other conditions but nothing that warrants concern for the mission’s safety. Our treatment staff has been more than effective in providing therapeutic services and counseling. The biggest problem at this point is in establishing new social dynamics in these close-quarters. As we approach spin-up, we expect people to become more anxious and stressed but again, nothing to cause too much concern.

On a personal note, I and the CHOIRS team wish to thank you for your support these many years. We would not be here without your help, your dreams and your prayers.

– S. Answar, MD, CHOIRS

* Special thanks to Dr. Obinna and the Canadian team for their work in deep space agriculture and artificial lighting.

Hard choices Thursday

Posted by James Dubois in CHOIRS, Tech.
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I’m not sure how much of this message will get back without edits so I’m just going to say what’s on my mind. At the present time there are 127 people out of commission with complications from acute and/or chronic radiation sickness. 19 of these people were in critical condition and had to be placed back into the Ripley pods. It was a difficult decision to make and not one I was ready to make. My heart goes out the medical team and the captains for the awful decision that they had to make.

Ultimately it fell onto a deadlock with one deciding vote by a member of the medical team. I think he was 100% in the right in his reasons to send the sick people back to the pods, I can’t imagine making that call myself. Logic and reason won out in the end over emotion. There was a huge blowout after the news of the decision. People were really upset, and understandably so. Qiong is asleep now… she was crying for hours. Hard to believe. If anyone should trust the pod technology it should be her.

There is some good news. While developing the optical laser relay, Jayesh had tinkered with calcium fluoride lasers. Sjon was able to hack the key implants to monitor radiation levels using the calcium fluoride crystals as dosimeters. Terrestrial application was limited but up here, with constant low-level exposure, the crystals work much better than some other methods. When the surrounding tissue is dosed, it affects the key implant which and sends out a warning to the medical department and to the user if things get too hot. We’ve been poring over the design specs of the keys and seeing lots of potential uses that even Jay never realized. Thankfully, he was (is) a meticulous technical writer.

The communications team has been busy with data transmission problems that we hope to fix soon. Wide-band communications is still buggy and the optical laser is in low-power test mode for at least another month. In the meantime, we’re dealing with lots of family members sending and receiving messages to/from Earth and elsewhere to CHOIRS team, especially those suffering from illness. Those of us with family aboard the lifeboats have donated our time on the relay to those in need of it. Sasha and Guy came up with the idea, a way to “distribute data flow” based not on personal need but on desire to give it up… kind of brilliant, really. I mean, we all need/want time on the relay for whatever reason but did I need mine enough to keep my friend Sam from talking to his grandkids (yes, he’s a granddad now with a six year old granddaughter!)?

We’re a family up here, all of us, and we have to look out for each other. Now more than ever.

Wakey Wakey Tuesday

Posted by James Dubois in CHOIRS, Personal, Travel.
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I know the big question (or one of them) is going to be about the cryonics process. These kinds of messages dominate the flood. All I can say is I don’t know… I was “asleep.” It’s a little creepy to think about what happened and some of the other settlers have formed support groups to talk about it. It was Dr. Faizabahd who suggested it to help assuage some of our fears and worries. I’m doing okay with the whole thing, but some people have had a difficult time. There are an inordinate number of atheists aboard the lifeboats, though that wasn’t a limiting factor in the selection process. The others I’ve spoken to were definitely shaken by the procedure. I know Parvin is Muslim… how does one bring up religion in this environment? Does she pray to Mecca? How does that work a half-billion miles away from the Earth?

I met this one guy I knew from the training camp in Évry named Michel from the ESA. Devout agnostic, he called himself. He’s on another ship right now but the last time we spoke he said that he had an “experience” while in cryonics. Not sure what that means.

Three months into it and my body still hasn’t adjusted. I’m taking calcium magnesium supplements as well as other medications. Doing lots of physical therapy and general exercises. It’s ridiculously hard to work out in space! Lifting weights is more or less a futile activity. It’s all about rubber bands up here. Big, thick rubber bands.

The one good thing is that we do have is plenty of room. Not as much as on Liberty, sure. But more than the old days of space travel. This is but one advantage of space construction. The frames of the lifeboats are super-strong but super-light. And because we don’t have to escape the gravity well, we can build larger living quarters without too many problems. Don’t get me wrong, this is no palace but it’s not bad. Good for us, because once we dock at CHOIRS we’re going to reconfig the lifeboats to act as dorms. As soon as we’re able to do so, we’ll move out into the final living areas. By that time, we might even have lawns. GREEN LAWNS. Can you believe it? Speaking of which, when not exercising or working I’ve been doodling robot lawnmower designs. I’ll upload those to the CHOIRSproject site when I get some inspiration. 🙂

Work continues at an accelerated pace on CHOIRS. I get feedback from the construction drones on a regular basis (dry, dry technical data that I won’t bore you with). Qiong is here with me and we talk a lot about having a community vegetable garden in addition to the aeroponics that will provide us with most of our food. You don’t want to know what we’re eating right now. Gray foil packets with the contents stamped on the outside. The coffee, to my eternal gratitude, is fantastic. Adelmo and his wife made sure of that.

Life is good, life is strange. I see the stars on the monitor and I think of home. We’re doing okay, everyone. Everything is going according to the plan. I guess if I can thank anyone for that simple mercy it’s all of you back on Earth charting the path ahead.

Burt and Kevin just challenged me to speed-Scrabble. I’m logging off for now.

– Hersh

See you soon. Friday

Posted by James Dubois in CHOIRS, Personal, Travel.

I won’t ever see my parents again.

I won’t ever see Luna shining in the sky.

I won’t see the sunrise or sunset.

I won’t watch the winds carrying clouds over Ohio.

Seven years.

I don’t know how to feel about all of this. So much emotion…hope, sadness, loss, and yeah…a little fear. What waits out there beyond the reach of our little blue world? Beyond the spinning wheels of Liberty? The red dust of Mars?

Nobody knows.

I’m afraid, but I’m not too afraid to go. I’m not too afraid to take that step across the threshold. It was my first trip to the candy store in Dayton, the last one in the neighborhood. They had those chocolates that the Amish people made. Licorice wheels and penny candy (that really cost 5 cents). My skinny little hand clutching a few dollars. Those tentative footsteps off the curb and across the street, Dad’s outstretched hand nowhere to be found. My first day out alone.

But I’m not alone. Hundreds go with me. Qiong, my friends and co-workers. Some of the brightest minds I’ve ever known. And we’re not alone, either. We go with the thoughts and prayers of billions. I heard the President’s speech. I heard all the speeches. Our last days were spent reading all the letters that came up through the feed. Lots of tears. Tears and cake.

Cake. God, I’m hungry. Haven’t eaten in eighteen hours. It’s almost time.

I’m off to be prepped. It’s scary. Exhilarating. Strange. Part of me doesn’t want to go. I’ve seen amazing things out here, down there. Done amazing things. But there’s something else that needs to be done before my time is up.

The signal remains strong. It’s out there. I’m going home.

– Hersh out.

Genesis Wednesday

Posted by James Dubois in CHOIRS, Tech.
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The problem is twofold: one, my bones de-ossify faster than normal folks. The other problem is that in a long-term transport, the passengers will be in cryonics for the duration of the trip (this reduces a lot of headaches that can arise when shipping humans). Dr. Flores has a background in nano-medicine and pharmacological chemistry and was on the team that perfected the hyper-branched polymers that are pumped into trauma victims instead of blood. Same thing will happen to us travelers, minus the trauma. The blood doesn’t form crystals so we don’t suffer irreparable damage upon the onset of acute hypothermia (i.e.: meat popsicle).

But it’s one thing to put someone under and wake them up. I mean, they were doing that to dogs years ago and people not too long after. The time you’re under is of huge importance! The issue is that your muscles atrophy while asleep. Your arms. Yours legs. Your heart tissue. And because you’re in a zero-gravity situation, you have no weight and your bones lose density. There’s the rub. Not only will my body be incapable of handling those stresses, but it’s possible that the other people on the boat will suffer a similar array of medical problems.

Now, Qiong is the transport guru. She’s lead designer and her system is very basic and structured, calling for a long period of inactivity. Each transport module will be shot off in groups of three and the plan is to have twelve such launches between Phases I and III. Total individuals on CHOIRS at Phase III will be ~9,000 adults. But her system is going to make recovery risky — that first wave of 750 is going to have problems we don’t even know about. So what to do? That’s when I came up with the “gravity lung.”

Essentially, it’s an artificial gravity simulator… almost like a centrifuge. A housing that generates near-Earth gravity for the occupant of what we’re called the “Ripley Pods.” The pods keep the passenger in cryonic stasis and the gravity lung supplies enough force to prevent certain kinds of space diseases. An onboard crew (working in shifts) will be awake and aware. This caretaker unit will administer medical attention to the passengers and live and work on the transport in zero-gees (much like the old ISS, except this is a shuttle and not an orbital station). According to a schedule Dr. Flores is working out, passengers will spend parts of the journey awake and part asleep (several month cycles). Total time will come to about a year and a half wakey-wakey and about five asleep. And even though there will be some issues with gravity while awake, it’s possible to exercise and stave off the effects of a no-grav environment.

So we hash this out, literally, in a night. Just cloud-bursting ideas on a white board.

Then we talk it over with various people from medical, engineering, transport and even the shrinks — they all agree it could work. And it could keep yours truly alive and well long enough to see CHOIRS spin up. Then, we can dock our transports and like the animals walking off the ark two-by-two, begin a new life.

Rollercoaster Monday

Posted by James Dubois in CHOIRS, Tech.
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Bo called me into his office and gave me the bad news, that I was off the project and my contract with InfraCorp was terminated. Everyone believes that I didn’t intentionally mislead the medical board vis a vis my condition, but everyone agrees it doesn’t really matter to the suits. I could go to legal with it but then what? No pun intended, but after what came out at the inquest I have shaky legs to stand on in terms of legal rights.

I’m headed back to my office to clean out my desk (security is by my side the whole time) and it’s like a mini-reunion: Bo is there with some of the suits from InfraCorp. There are also some engineers and programmers, some I recognize and some I don’t.

The coder is freaking out about delta-V’s and triangulation and he’s speaking a mile a minute. I catch enough to know that the relay beacon failed. The whole impetus of the project was to send out this advance beacon, kind of an interplanetary buoy out there bobbing in the Saturnian “ocean” to light the way for CHOIRS and (hopefully) continued expansion of humanity into and out of our solar system. This is huge, this is the Nina, the Pinta, the Santa Maria all over again.

So we send this rocket-propelled antenna (which is what it is in layman’s terms) out there and six and a half years later, the screwy thing fails to deploy. By “deploy” I mean, it should take up orbit around Titan and start sending back radio signals and lasers back to the nearest research bases (Ganymede and Agra). By “fails” I mean it doesn’t. It fails to respond. We have no idea where it is, when it is or what it’s doing. Without the beacon, we can’t send out the construction rigs. Without the construction rigs, we can’t start Phase I and CHOIRS dies a cold and painful death.

This is a few billion dollars down the drain on the relay alone and even more on CHOIRS’ development costs. I mean, the whole project is now on hold at least another what…decade? Eight years at the earliest. That’s an ungodly amount of money.

I say, I can help. I can fix this if you just give me the time. The suits say that I can’t work on the project. My contract was terminated and the company is not legally allowed to re-hire me without a full medical examination and review (which I’d fail again anyway). I tell them just let me freelance it! Whip up another contract and I’ll sign. Just to help save the project…nothing more.

Bosse holds up his hands and he tells me he wants me to help but it’s too late. I tell him it’s not too goddamn late…an hour before I had a job, now I don’t and they’re going to sacrifice all that time, money and hard work because of an hour?! So I lay it on the line: if the problem is liability insurance, then I’ll waive my rights, my pension, my death and disability. I need to help. And more important, I need to go out there to see it through.

We start knocking our heads together and figuring out What Went Wrong. Then we figured it out. Stupid, simple mistake. But I was always good at spotting those inconsequential details that turn out to be ridiculously important details. We have an all-night jam session, squirting new calculations back down to Earth and fourteen hours later we send the re-calibrated instructions to the beacon. And it sends us back a signal. We’re exhausted. We’re delirious with joy. Bo kisses both my cheeks. The suits are SMILING when we tell them what happened.

So later on, I talk to my wife. She knew I was fired…she did not know that I got myself re-hired. Qiong freaks out when I tell her what I did. I tell her it’s just money and she tells me that it’s not that I’m not fit for long-term space travel, it’s that I will 100% not survive the trip. I tell her (and I’m not making this up!), “Well that’s a chance I’ll have to take.”

And we both realize what I said and we start laughing and crying and just going nuts.

Nobody expects the… Sunday

Posted by James Dubois in CHOIRS, Personal.
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Lame joke?

I have to apologize for not posting about this earlier but between the trip back to L5, the deluge of catch-up work and now this thing, it’s a struggle to keep my head above the water.

I’m penning this on my workpad here outside a scary-looking door. I feel like I’ve been sent to the principal’s office and I’m stuck awaiting my fate. Inside is the company doctor Leona Flores. With her is Bo, some people from InfraCorp’s insurance overwriters and a few suits I don’t know (well, virtually…most of the people in the room are on remote feeds). Qiong is in there too, acting as a character witness. As soon as they’re done grilling her it’ll be my ass that’s put to the fire.

It’s unclear how much of this I can divulge but I figure it won’t hurt to talk about it, especially when the outcome is a foregone conclusion. There’s been some talk that I falsified records in order to conceal my health problems (which is ridiculous) and that not only is this going to cost me a trip to CHOIRS’ Phase I (which is a given) but it might cost me my job as well. Even if I’m cleared of those erroneous charges, Dr. Flores says that there’s no way to safely transport me with the first wave without my bones turning into swiss cheese en route. That means I can’t join the first wave of travelers to CHOIRS, which means I’m going to be planetside when they leave, which means I’m not ever going to see this project through to completion (I mean, not that there was any guarantee in the first place, as the Phase III milestone falls somewhere in my 60’s…and there’s no way there’s going to ship someone approaching septegenerian status to Titan). The good news is that my contract affords me excellent benefits (including life and disability, which I think this covers if I lose the project — have to talk to my lawyer). So I’ll be okay financially… just not spiritually, emotionally, professionally, etc. etc. etc.

Sorry if I’m rambling.

Marshall just brought me a sandwich. Thanks Marsh!

Oh yeah! Irony: as one of the primaries on the transport/cargo ship design team, Qiong is going to have to go BACK into the scary room to tell everyone that her system is not able to safely transport her invalid husband. Can you believe that? She wasn’t going to do it but they shook some legalese in her direction and she caved. Not that I blame her. My hazard pay and life insurance stated in my idemnity clause is not insubstantial. Not that I-Corp would feel anything…

Legal just IM’ed me so I’m going to close for now and head in. Wish me luck. – Hersh

Hersh 2.0 Tuesday

Posted by James Dubois in CHOIRS, Tech.
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As part of a new security protocol here on Liberty, I’ve been implanted with a “key capsule.” Now, as you all know by now I’m a bit leery of any kind of invasive identification beyond standard biometrics (right to privacy and all of that) but after the incident here a few months back, security and safety are the operative watchwords. There’s no safety net up here in the aether.

The procedure was simple and to the point. It’s similar to the ID tags they implant in animals and prisoners back on Earth, but the key capsule is much more than a simple transponder. I talked to one of the developers of the key, a chap named Jayesh who’s stationed on Luna. He studied with Dr. Warwick at the University of Reading a decade back while Warwick was doing his Cyborg 1.0 and 2.0 programs.

The key is based on Warwick’s implantation experiments at the turn of the century, but (thankfully) much smaller. And while Warwick’s chips were surgically implanted in his arm, the key is now inserted under the subclavius muscle (near the collarbone). I asked Jayesh why the implant wasn’t placed in the arm and he told me a gruesome story about an accident on Luna where they tracked a missing person to a collapsed tunnel and only found an arm. They found the arm’s owner a few hours later and only a few hundred meters away. Unfortunately, he didn’t make it. So the collar it is, then. Jayesh says he has the new version implanted in his palate — the lunars are much more gung-ho about the cybernetic lifestyle than I am. I’m perfectly happy with my workstation’s retinal scanner! Such is progress.

His design is intriguing and similar to some of CHOIRS’ security and tracking systems we’re planning to implement. The main difference is that whereas the CHOIRS ID chip is a static piece of hardware implanted in the subject, the lunar key capsule design contains software that can be upgraded and even modified by the user. The user can walk into an ad-hoc living space and have the room adjust to his preferences. The security system grants him access to the room as expected, but can also dim the lights, puts on some music and a pot of coffee and and re-configure the user’s workstation as soon as he sits down. Each capsule is registered with a unique serial number and the network tracks that bearer of the capsule in relation to its environment. I asked him if the key’s serial number could be hacked and he said no, that the number itself is part of the hardware, not the software. The only way to hack the ID of the capsule is to hack the network’s database (which is virtually bulletproof as its so vital to life support) or to extract the capsule itself and replace it. That seems like a more likely solution but he says that they’re working on that.

We spoke at length about privacy in closed environments. He’s of the mind that humans need to adapt and to use technology to enable us to live in non-private, confined places. He says the classical model of orbital life, all wide-open vistas and green spaces and Earth gravity is outmoded. That in order to live, we’ll need to change ourselves not just to survive but to prosper in what he calls “technological spaces.” That the concept of “privacy” is antithetical to cooperative life in these technological spaces. I told him my position, which is a lot less radical and more humanist, that people need privacy. We’re not bees!

His response was short and to the point: “Maybe we need to change.”

After my implant was installed, he called up the sysconfig of my key and we spent about a half hour tweaking and tinkering the system preferences. At first I was a bit nervous about the whole endeavor, then fascinated, then excited as soon as I realized the sheer utility of the device. I can now “squirt” biometric information from my key to the cardio equipment in the gym where I work out in the morning. No galvanic response, no electrodes, it’s all wireless and instantaneous. All it needs is storage memory, or the ability to access storage… hmm, I’ll have to whiteboard that when I get a chance.