Thursday, December 10, 2009

Top sekrets!

For a while now, my company has been involved in some fun stuff, which I haven't been able to talk about mostly because of time, but also because it's been a well guarded secret. Which is not so well guarded anymore.

Because we have little regulation out here on the rim, we don't worry too much about trying new stuff. We also like to play with old stuff; we have had a good deal of luck (and made a good deal of money) by taking existing products and- well, making them perfect.

We can't do much with things like transistors, but we can make them very fast and very reliable, though they are plenty reliable enough to begin with. What we have had some fun with is the real high power stuff. One of the projects I was assigned is to try to make high power relay/switching systems work more efficiently.

We started with Klystron relays, and did some pretty impressive work; eventually we moved up to things like IOT finals. These are used in broadcast transmitters and other similar tpes of equipment. The crude ones are used to inductin harden special steels. The fine ones are used on stardrives, to push entire ships- er, outside, and then pull them back in again. It's an interesting thng- and a concept few entirely grasp- that FTL travel and broadcast communications share so many common technologies.

Anyway, one of my co workers George and I had the very first unit on our floor getting ready to test it. Part of the reason we can do such interesting work here is the purity of the materials we have to work with, and this is a huge help. We cast the final housing in vacuum so there would be no impurities, and machined it also in a vacuum to prevent the introduction of anything that would affect the drive.

The assembly took place in a clean vacuum- the vacuum of space is plenty empty, but anything near anything experiences contamination by outgassing. A solid piece of cast iron will, remarkably enough, give off, in it's lifetime, about tenth of a percent of it's weight in oxygen, carbon, nitrogen, etc. and these gasses- even in ultra tiny amounts, will eventually contaminate a high power final drive. We have rooms that have been evacuated by the vacuum of space, while the components in the room and the tools have all been outgassed elsewhere.

We assembled the first IOT final in the clean vacuum, and then put it in the centrifuge for a day. There are always a few molecules of crap floating around, and we have removeable "stickypads" that trap them and get them out of there. A lot of the time when you see burn or arc-over inside a final it's because there were enough molecles of contaminant floating around that it caused a problem.

Anyway, we put the final on the test stand and brought it into the test room.

There's a special fluid we use to cool these finals, and it has to come in at a pretty high pressure, and if there's the slightest void in the casting it can carry some of the coolant into the vacuum chamber. George hooks up the coolant and starts the pump.

'Sixty five pisseye" he reads. "Seventy. Seventy five. Secondary pumps kicking in. Ninety pisseye. One ten. One fifty. Two hundred. Coolant passages full and pressure holding. Dropping blast screen" The second test we'd done with this equipment there was a leak and the coolant breached through to vacuum- the drive, made to only deal with the 14.7 PSI of atmospheric pressure, popped like a popcorn kernel. George was doused with the greasy black c0oling fluid and barely avoided being impaled on flying shrapnel. "Blast screen secure. Five hundred pisseye. Six fifty- seven fifty- eight- nine- one thousand pisseye. Max pressure reached. Cutting in secondary pumps. " The next test uses a secondary, backup set of coolant passages, and it passes it's test with flying colors. We leave the system hooked up and under presssure for a couple of weeks, to make sure there will be no leakage and no crossover from pressure to vacuum.

The ultra purity of the materials and the cleanliness of the vacuum chamber and the components therein can affect it's longevity and the amount of power it can wihtstand, but it's also critical to the- er, higher uses.

Years ago, an engineer figured out you could use microwaves to cook food, and they made Magnetrons that did the job, only they made them like they were using them for broadcasts. Later, they discovered that food was not nearly as picky about the quality of the "Signal". The final drives that are used in space travel are the opposite- the first were made out of modified radio transmitters, but it was soon discovered they had to be more powerful and more meticulously tunable to be functional and reliable. A lot of fine booster techs out there were still wandering around with tiny non-conductive screwdrivers and field strength meters wearing holes in their coveralls because they had to constantly fiddle with the aging drives. These drives would- well, they'd never eliminate the need for techs, they'd just make their lives a lot easier.

SO we put the drive in the cabinet and hook everything up, and put on a dummy load so as not to squirt-boost the planet a hundred miles out of orbit, and turn it on.

It makes a little click noise, and comes online, a 2500 kilowatt unit in the same size case as a 250 kilowatt unit just a couple years ago. The power consumption is incredible, we're feeding it from line voltage direct from the nuke plant down the road, and though it's a separate circuit, the lights in the building dim anyway. We let it get to temp to make sure the cooling system works, and carefully shut it down.

It got burned in in a light cruiser doing long hops for test purposes only. george went with as tech. That was eight months ago; the first unit was delivered and installed just the other day. We'll see how it goes.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The more things change

The more they suck, or so Butthead said. Work has been a handful,and not much time for much of anything.

On the other hand, I have been able to sneak away and do some sailing. Glovers are prohibited from squirt boosting but we can still enjoy space in any other way that doesn't involve rearranging our atoms.

So I went solar sailing with some friends. It's a cool sport, and one I do a lot in my downtime.

A solar sail is a piece of metalized mylar, with a fine carbon fiber reinforcement. They're relatively cheap and easy to replace, and can be deployed from any of the space elevators or from a small orbital. They are driven by solar winds.

The sail is connected to a suit, and once you have launched it you control the lines with your handsw and feet, and a small computerized monitor that can either be worn on the wrist or projected onto your retina.

Once in motion you can activate the suit, which blows up until you look like a freakish Violet Beauregard. You can then pull your head in and use the suit like a tiny spaceship. It's a lot like living inside a balloon.

And you can live there for about ten days. They reccomend you eat low volume foods, and the foods sold for sailing are filling but have almost no actual volume. Otherwise it would get crowded in the suit.

You can then deflate it back to a "suit" to ravel the sail back in once you arrive somewhere.

Some of the more hardcore types will get out of the suit during flight. You have to wear some serious special sunscreen, which usually contains a thin film to prevent too much evaporation through your skin. You also need goggles, whcih have misters to keep your eyes moist and lubed, and auto shade in bright light. A nose/mouth mask and earplugs and you can step out into space naked as a jaybird.

Which I have done, often enough.

People get all freaked out about vacuum but the reality is, your body is more than capable of handling 14.7 psi. Sure, some orifices like the nose, mouth, eyes and ears need to be protected, but the freedom of zero g and vacuum is something to be experienced.

You could lose your snorkel and die, or you could lose an earplug and have the air in your lungs shoot out the side of your head, or you could fart severely and get tangled in your shroud lines, but for the most part, you wouldn't be there if you weren't a bit of a daredevel.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Sorry, folks!

I haven't been ignoring you, I've been off planet. No, I haven't been squirt boosting around the universe, I just took a slow (and safe, for me) shuttle to two local moons.

My company made a handful of very special machines whose sole purpose is the manufacture of one item. The cost was nearly thirty million bucks, and they will all only run once, if everything goes well.

The machines are to grind and figure a mirror. They were made under contract for a company making a deep space telescope for the rim.

When the Hubble was sent into space, and saw first light, a BUNCH of people were really pissed off.

See, some brain trust had decided that it made good sense to figure the mirror in atmosphere. The mirror that would be used in the vacuum of space.

Now, this would ordinarily not seem like a big deal; the index of refraction of vacuum is 1.0000000 (which is the baseline) but air is closer to 1.0003. Not much, right? On an 8' diameter mirror that's the difference between a sharp image and a crappy one. The wavelength of visible light falls between 400 and 800 nanometers, and a good mirror is supposed to be less than an eigth of a wavelength off at any point. Plus, it was figured and polished in earth gravity.Hubble might just as well have been a man's stainless shaving mirror. So they put 'Glasses" on it, which allow it to use about 3% of it's available surface area.

Anyway, my company made a machine that would be assembled in space where no discernable gravity but the mass of the machinery existed; this machinery cast the mirror in honeycomb segments and let them cool slowly by radiation, and when the entire mirror was cool it was stress relieved,and ground to shape.

The lapping was done by another machine, and both machines were dismantled and boosted away.

Then the final machine, the one I helped design, was brought into place. It's mass was infinitesimal, less than a hundred pounds. Pieces of it were actually made of bamboo, and we set the mirror spinning and used it's own mass to keep it going while it was polished.

We didn't have to build a chamber to coat it, we just set up the sputteror and deposited the aluminum right there in space. We did put sheets of plastic so molecular level molten aluminum wouldn't be roaming around the universe- I now keep a little piece of that aluminised plastic in my wallet.

A group of dignitaries boosted in from Earth to catch first light, but they ended up getting stuck farside for a couple days in quarantine- one had some nasty sinus shit and we didn't want to give it to the whole planet.

So I parked myself in the driver's seat, and slewed the big mirror around to Home.

it took a while for Earth to rotate into the right position, but I managed to catch a good view of Christmas Lake just before it rotated nightside. Nice scope.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

it never rains but it pours

No sooner than I get home and settled back into work after being shot, I get a service summons and have to take ANOTHER two weeks off work.

This year my service summons was to be a Circuit Court judge. I suppose to other people this might seem unusual but on La-A the law is very simple, and most ten year 0lds understand it. And every citizen is called on to take his turn in the barrel. Each year you spend two weeks doing a job in the government, and your employer must continue to pay you during that time. This is completely voluntary; you can be excused if you're dead, feebleminded, or a democrat. But I repeat myself. Actually, hardly anyone shirks the service. Each person takes the task they have been assigned very seriously, and whether it's a judge or a clerk, and most everyone is happy to take the little vacation from the regular job. Last year I took a job for two weeks as a health inspector.

Anyway, we do our volunteer jobs happily, because it means we pay almost nothing in taxes- as a matter of fact, the tax burden here is such that immigration is limited to family members and Hopkin-F patients. And we like that just fine.

So I have been a judge, for a while. The cases I'm seeing aren't difficult nor is application of the law complex. I'd talk about the cases- there is nothing against that- but they are so boring I have to drink extra caffeine to stay awake during the trials. At the end of which, the plaintiffs are pretty well comfortable with the verdict before it's even handed down. As a general rule, we're a law abiding bunch.

As an aside, the miscreant I dropped several weeks ago was an offworlder who, it turns out, was here trying to organize a union. he had been able to get zero support, anywhere, though he was on fire to "help" the workers of La-A. he finally went off it and started shooting. Until I took him out of commission.


Thursday, May 28, 2009

Things I miss

I grew up on earth. That seems a hundred years ago, now, since coming to La-A.

This is my home, and I love it here. I enjoy my gig and I am surrounded by fun things and good friends.


I read og's comment at Roberta's place, and it made me think of a time, long ago, when I held my Father's hand and stepped up to the cab of a steam locomotive. We spoke to the engineer and watched the fireman pour the coals in. In a time before litigiousness the engineer picked me up and put me in the seat, and let me pull back the big handle and shift the loco down the tracks. It was a thrill beyond compare, and a memory that will never leave me. I loved that spot, and went as often as I could, even spending a summer there as a "guide" before heading off to college. The definitive museum of the American Industrial Revolution. Steampunk heaven.

You can look at the machinery and see the change in the way people thought, and see the way people felt about the magic of the machinery.

I miss being able to walk among the locos and run my hand along the decades old paint. I miss being able to stand in Bucky Fuller's Dymaxion Home. I miss standing in Edison's lab and being amazed by the mixture of chemistry and physics and biology there.

I don't want to rescramble my brains to see it again, at least not yet. Maybe sometime towards the end of my life I will do so, so I can once more walk among the history of my species and marvel at how far we've come, if the place is still there when I arrive at that age.

Friday, May 22, 2009

That's what friends do

Two weeks ago a colleague, on his way home from a job we're both working, rear-ends a car.

Apparently he was just woolgathering, worried about some test results that hadn't come back yet from his wife, and not being as attentive as he should have been. And smacked into another car at about 30.

Everyone is fine, thank God, but his car was hammered up a bit. He's not a specifically mechanical type so this was a tragedy to him, he likes the car and doesn't want to buy a new one, and doesn't have a lot of cash to sling around either.

SO last night I dropped by his place after work with a truckload of tools. I parked the truck in front of his car and used hammers, slide hammers, chain jacks etc. to straighten out the most of it. And we got it back to running condition, and it will be on the road again by mid week (He still has to get some parts that can only be purchased mail order). He was extremely excited, kept saying over and over "I owe you man, this is huge". No, he doesn't. Like I told him. That's what friends do.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

When I have a little time on my hands

I hop in the car and drive off to the spacedock. Sometimes I ride the elevator up to the dock itself, it's a hoot. Riding a glass elevator twelve thousand miles high is not for the faint of heart, so most people opt for the windowless lounge- but I like to watch the plains of La-A falling away.

The dock itself is a bustling place. Lots of techs use it like a fleamarket to sell surplussed or damaged equipment from the jumps, some buy spare parts they think they might need, some use the old pieces as jewelry, some just like the shiny bits. I like to wander between the tables and look at the parts, watch the evolution of the squirt booster drive and marvel at the fact that some people still trust their lives to the crudest of equipment.

You get to see all types. Most spacers and people who live off old earth are pretty comfortable in their own skin. We still get a lot of goths, punks, hair types, steampunk, whatever. I'm often amused by what people will do to "be different". When people have lived in the lockers-for-quarters they issue to techs and steerage passengers onboard freighters, they tend to dress in non-loud soft clothing, and practice impeccable hygeine. Only passengers from Earth who pay full price for their lavish accommodations smell or dress loudly.

The most fun, for me, is the restaurant and offworlder's reactions to it. See, at orbital position, the dock has a mild gravity but it's centrifugal. The elevator switches position as you ascend so the perceived gravity is seamless. But usually ships dock on the night side, and when the passengers debark, the first place they go is the Topsider. Decent drinks, good food, good prices. Not exactly airport food. So people settle in and have a sandwich, a beer, maybe a cocktail, and enjoy some conversation.

Then the sun rises.

As La-A rotates the spaceport comes into sunlight first, and then the crescent of La-A slowly becomes visible. Overhead. If you're not expecting it, it looks as though a planet is speeding toward you out of space, and rare is the day indeed when a passenger doesn't scream out loud. Once, I watched an entire pod (no other word for them, really) of enormous housewives from Lepton-7 gasp and pass out almost in unison.

it's amusing, and since we have good medical care here, hardly anyone ever has any long term ill effects. Still.

And most of the time I rent a room and spend a night. I park my keister in the little 6x6 and imagine it's my bunk on the freighter I would be piloting, had my initial dreams been realized. Sometimes I share the bunk with an offworlder. Sometimes I invite her back to the planet for dinner the next day. Sometimes one takes me up on it.

it's a way of keeping that dream alive. Even if only in my dreams.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Sorry, folks

Not trying to be out of touch, just been, well- out of touch.

I got shot last week, and spent the time between then and now recuperating on a friend's farm, a long way from access to any kind of technology newer than horse harnesses.

See, I was at the hardware store getting a blade sharpened for the lawnmower and I heard gunfire. Curiosity has always made me the type that will run toward gunfire, but this was not the kind I'm used to hearing. As I've said, lots of people here have guns and shoot, but this was hurried and seemingly random. So I got to the parking lot and saw an offworlder holding a kid by the hair and waving a little handgun around. He was screaming something incomprehensible but the kid was terrified.

I walked out and looked around, most people were pretty well ready to pop this idiot but a few recognized me and smiled. 'Go for it, Hank!' one even said.

So I walked over to the miscreant,who by this time was holding his gun more or less at the kid- I figured the way he was going it was most likely he'd shoot himself. I said 'You don't really want to do that, do you?" and he opened fire on me. Three shots, all missed, and I drew and fired at point blank range., just about. As I've said before, I'm a duffer with a handgun, but I was ten feet away. The Glaser entered his left eye, more or less, and didn't exit.

And as he dropped the gun hit the ground anddischarged, the slug ripped into my left calf. He was a better shot dead than alive.

The kid was happy to have it all over, and the cops came and cleaned up the mess. Another offworlder approached me, noticing the glove. 'Aren't you... you people supposed to be some kind of holy rollers or something? How could you kill someone in cold blood like that?"

'First of all, you were here, this was not cold blood. In case you hadn't noticed, the recently deceased was shooting at other people. On La-A that means he relinquishes his human and civil rights, and is considered fair game. Second, "We people" have no specific injunction agianst killing, nor any specific injunctions at all. What we believe is outside of your understanding, but it does not prevent us from engaging in a little herd thinning from time to time, when it is indicated."

"but how about 'thou shalt not kill" and that stuff?'

'While Christianity is just fine by me, I'm not a Christian. And there aren't injunctions against killing in Christianity, just committing Murder. The original text says 'Thou shalt not commit murder". Look it up. This reprobate was about to commit murder. I stopped him. Simple as that"

She walked off in a huff but I wasn't surprised. offworlders AND non-glovers wouldn't get it anyway I explained it.

Anyway, the police cut me a check on the spot, right out of the police fund. (Bodies of miscreants go right to organ banks. The shooter gets the proceeds) I tore it up and said they should put it in the cop's pension funds, and thanked them. Hey, thirty large is nothing to sneeze at, but the cops do a fine job, mostly, like in this case, of documenting. And I don't really need it.

So after getting the bullet pulled and stitched up, i called in, told them I would be unavailable for at least a week, and headed out to Jon's farm for some lazy afternoons fishing from a folding chair on the dock of his little farm pond. Happy to be alive, and now it's good to be back to work.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Old machines, new parts.

Went out today to see an old friend, do some work to machines he owns.

This guy, I was working on his machines a couple of years into my apprenticeship, a lot of years ago. A long mail from my dad reminded me that I had an obligation to satisfy the man who, ultimately, wrote my paycheck- and that man is my Customer. This specific customer, who caught me at the same time that missive from dad arrived, bore the full brunt of that lesson.

See, this guy- I'll call him Robert- is possibly the most disagreeable human alive. A whole bunch of servicemen had left his place of business proclaiming they'd never set foot there again.

I found out why firsthand. Robert has only one way to approach people working for him, and that is to scream at them until they lose their cool, and to bitch about the service received.

Robert came to me and started complaining immediately, and I remembered the lecture dad had mailed me, and I kept my mouth shut. He asked how much it was going to cost to fix his machine, and I told him I wasn't responsible for billing, though I was able to quote him our service rates. I also told him I was still training, and I would do my best to negotiate only a four hour deal for him for the specific job. And he asked "So how goddamned long d0 you suppose you're going to take?"

"Until you are completely satisfied" I told him.

That shut him up.

I finished in three hours, and I asked him to sign a service report that said two hours.

And he greeted me as if I was his long lost brother.

Back at the office, they greeted me with "Well, at least you never have to go back, since he threw you out". They were stunned when I handed them a money order for the whole job, and told them Robert wanted me back next week.

That was sixteen years ago. Since then he allows nobody else to work on his machines. Machines he imported from old earth at incredible expense. (Read: He bought at auction for scrap prices and had shipped as ballast aboard deep space freighters) I have hammered together several machines for him out of old wrecks, and as a rule, he's my most satisfied customer. Each service call since then has begun with an hours long discussion with him doing most of the talking about how much shit the world is in and how horrible things are; "I've never, ever seen it this bad" is what he says every time I go there. Each time he pays me cash and usually boosts my fees ten percent or more.

I haven't been there for six, eight months, but he greeted me as if it had been yesterday. And then I went back to the machines.

His are the oldest, most dated cartesian matter modifiers I've ever worked on. But they were made in an age when their technology was still treated as magic, and their manufacture reflects that respect.

Today I was rebuilding spindles. The spindles are high speed (for their time) and spin at 18,000 rpm. They actually have separate invertors! No actual electronics whatsoever are built into the spindles, they're literally just motors. And no air or magnetics, these suckers have actual ball bearings- two on the bottom, where the work gets done, and one on top- acting a bit like the rear wheels on a front wheel drive car. The bearings are still made in one place on earth, and every time I open a fresh box, I can smell the air of Tokyo.

Anyway, these bearings are pretty finely manufactured and take some time to install properly. It is incredibly important and a disaster to get wrong. Cleanliness is the most important issue, as a micron sized particle of dust is like the bearing running into a brick wall at speed. So I dismantle the spindle, and clean it. And then I clean the parts. The bolts. The nuts. The inside, The outside. I have a little glove bag which I then inflate around the composite parts. And I clean again, inside the box. And I pipe in 5 psi of .05 micron air. And then I reassemble the spindle.

Each bolt has a specific torque which I've learned by rote, and I have four snap wrenches set to the appropriate torque and can grab them in the glove bag by feel. Even after having done this a thousand times and putting all my ducks in a very orderly row, it still takes me two and a half hours to do one of these spindles.

I did two today. They came online with barely a whisper, a 34 lb spindle spinning up to 34,000 rpm instantly. not a hint of excess vibration. Nice to know I still have the touch.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The glove

One of the first things you notice on La-a is the number of people wearing subtle gloves on their left hands.

Every one is a sufferer from Hopkin-F dysplasia. A lot of people end up here with it, because this is the first short hop out of Earth to the rim and further out. Most of the best experts in the field are here, because most of the people who have it are here.

See, Hopkin F dysplasia tends to scramble your brain a bit, so that you are having a conversation which- while completely lucid to you- is gibberish to everyone else.

On Old Earth, at one time, this was called "Speaking in tongues". No, not the asinine gibberish that the moron TV preachers did, an actual different language. A few people have made some progress at translation, but it's slow going. There isn't much point to it, either. Those of us who have had it still understand and can speak it to one another, but cannot assign meaning to the sounds the way you would think.

You see, Hopkin-F dysplasia "victims" "Suffer" under the 'Delusion" that they have felt the all encompassing love of the Creator. At least that's how it's defined in the official diagnosis. In reality, we have our brains "Adjusted" when we're outside of normal space. By God. it changes us, but the change is only perceptable to others like us. it doesn't make us holy rolling bible thumping nutbags. We simply have an unshakable faith in the Creator that only we understand. We don't proselytize. We don't look for converts. We don't want anyone to follow us or be like us. We don't feel we have any special power to change anthing or do anything. We're just perfectly comfortable with our relationship to the Creator.

We try to be the best people we can be and we often fail. But we are aware that our failure is what makes us human and not divine. We each wear a tight fitting woven glove that is almost transparent to the casual observer. The glove is kind of an inside joke. It reminds us of the all encompassing love of the Creator, and it actually feels like we felt when we were 'outside'. It is also a kind of a signal to like peoples.

Tour buses of offworlders used to come see us just like people would go drive around Amish and mennonite communities on old earth, looking at the funny religious people. We never minded nor objected. Eventually most got bored and went away. Occasionally a hardcore anti-theist will come and try to "reason" us out of our "Delusion". They usually end up heading back home and writing scholarly articles about our "sickness".

A team of folks have also been trying very hard to find a "cure". While people with this have gone on to travel it's not an experience most would revisit. Almost as though once is good enough, and the next time you go, you want it to be your last. I'm told the largest numbers of trips outside a Hopkin F patient has taken is four, after which the longing to stay outside forever is so strong it drove them mad.

One way or another, it has utterly revolutionized theology, at least to us. None of us have to be told when we stumble. None of us ever judges another for stumbling. We have an understanding that cannot be taken from us, and while most of the universe looks upon us as castoff damaged goods, we consider ourselves to be the Chosen of God in the age of space.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Why not ask Hank?

Want a job done, they say, give it to a busy person. Certainly, as things go here, I seem to keep getting the new stuff dropped in my lap time after time.

Doesn't bother me so much that they think I can handle any lamebrained thing that comes along, so much as it bugs me that they don't even bother asking anymore. Today I had a new project inserted in me; tech I haven't touched in two years, so I have to come back up to speed, a project some kid has been working on and got called away from, and a big enough system that it will be a disaster when it crashes, which it inevitably will, probably due to bad code, 20,000 lines of which I will have to watch so I can see if there's any gaping safety holes. Only two droids, and all things I'm capable of doing well.

Sometimes it's just nice to be asked, instead of told.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Genetic Manipulation

DNA fiddling has been around for quite some time, and it hapens here pretty regularly, to fix birth defects where they can (my own specific difficulty is on the list too) but also to make people less prone to disease.

One problem that was quite common in the early days was lung disease. There were a lot of airbornes when people first settled on La-A, and there was some discussion as to how that could best be handled. Finally a refugee geneticist from one of the russian factory planets suggested a retrovirus with an agent that strengthens the lung tissue, makes it more resistant to disease, allows it to absorb oxygen more readily, and self-cleans. The little cilia that are normally in the lungs are converted to beats-as-it-sweeps-as-it-cleans dirt removal machines.

So before they got the atmosphere cleaned up, a guy could work out in the dusty plains of La-A and not die. He might have wished he could, because at the end of the day you coughed crap up for five minutes, but your lungs were baby-clean and like new again right afterwards.

Newcomers would get the procedure as they arrived, a blood sample to take the genetic fingerprint and then a spray up your nose, and you were set. In about three days your lungs were changed cell by cell, and you never had to worry about lung disease again.

The downside was you tended to be more careless about the things you did. Fumes that were no longer damaging to your lungs were no less poisonous. So people had to be careful, but eventually, it all got sorted out.

Several generations in they discovered the mutation had taken root and all you had to do was come in body-fluid-level contact with an "infected" person and you got the mutation too. I developed it during treatment when i first arrived. Some say it itches during the change but I was too out of it to remember.

Consequently almost everyone here smokes. The chemicals in cigarette smoke are still there and still as damaging and dangerous but nobody here smokes that much, and the price of smoking is a couple hearty coughs in the morning, and you're fine again. Having come from earth it's a bit odd to see offices with ashtrays on every desk, and the ventilation systems in buildings have to be super effficient to keep all the places from smelling like smoke, but we manage fine.

I smoke about a pack a week. Not a big deal, by any standards, and the tobacco here is good. I also light up a pipe about once a week. And a few times a year, someone brings me a handrolled Cuban cigar.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Lost loves

About a year ago, I met a girl who had just finished basic training in the Marines. She chose her leave here, as a lot of marines do, before they head off to the outer rim. The climate here is predictable and sweet, the people are friendly, and accomodations are inexpensive.

We spend a month together waiting for her to be shipped out. At the end of a week she moved in, as much to save money as anything else. She had her own room, and slept in it most of the time. She knew she had four years of hotracking in a tiny battlecruiser, so she wanted to enjoy the space while she could. We treated the relationship as roomies, though it dipped in and out of more intimate contact. I was happy to have the company. She could cook, too. We taught one another a few things, in the kitchen and in the bedroom.

One day we got a couriered message with orders for her. Her launch was coming for her in the early morning, she'd be leaving when I was asleep.

We walked on the shore of lake Ocean. We walked a couple miles, and ate a sandwich, and talked a little about our futures. On the way back, she put her hand in mine. Standing on the shore of Ocean, we lit cigarettes and smoked, still holding hands, now almost silent. She turned to me, and let go of my hand and put an arm around my waist. I slipped my hand into her hair, my fingers cupping the back of her head as I kissed her. We stood there after we kissed, noses almost touching, breathing each other's breath. I willed the moment to last forever, and all other stimuli turned themselves off.

Then she gasped and backed away. The cigarette in her hand had burned down and scorched her fingers. I looked down to see mine blackened and blistered. I didn't care. The moment was over. I still remember the feeling of her muscular arm around me, her breath, her hair smelling sweet and clean. I put that butt on my nightstand, where it is still. The scar on my fingers has long since healed.

This afternoon I found she had died in mysterious circumstances. I don't know anything else yet. She had put me down as next of kin. I don't know how to feel about this. I guess I kind of thought of her coming back to see me after her tour of duty. Maybe I even wished for it. Now I'll never see her again.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Philotes and ansibles

We have just finished our most recent project but the screaming, and it went together so well the customer took US out to dinner instead of us taking him out, for a change.

So we sat around and ate bar food and yapped about the project and the next one in the pipeline, and one of the guys said "I don't know why you made such a fuss about the communications. People have been using ansible for years!"

Yes, I suppose, they have. I imagine people have been using telephones for ages as well, but most have no idea of the changes that have taken place in their use. Oh, at some point there were folks who realized cellphones had gone digital, but like most things, few have any idea how technology marches on.

Philotes are a special and fairly interesting subject, and a lot has been written about theory. Almost nobody has any idea how the nuts and bolts work, though.

See, a philote....

Crap, let's back up a moment.

Imagine for a moment that the speed of light is one foot per hour. And imagine you are transmitting a message twenty foot away with a flashlight. Your message will take twenty hours to get there.

Now, imagine you have a twenty foot steel rod. You can turn the rod easily. There's a pointer on the other end of the rod, and if you turn the rod up the pointer on the other end means "1" and if you turn it down it means "0". SO you can communicate a LOT of data, just using binary, while you're waiting for the light beam to pass.

A philote is kind of like this, and though it's not an extremely accurate analogy, it's how they were treated at first. The very first philote monkeys were very good at transmitting extremely complex data simply using a binary function. They could take the philotic "Particle" (for lack of a better word) and use a tiny magnetic field to "excite" it so it was either "up" or "down" so to speak, and the philote on the other end would respond the same way- it's position could be "read" by the induction in the magnetic field.

And then someone stumbled onto Carpathian bees. Carpathian bees weren't exactly bees, though they did make something rather like honey. They don't sting, they don't seem to have a fixed lifespan (though you do see dead ones) and they make honey and abandon it. Carpath is practically dripping with the stuff, and as the sugar molecules are such that it won't spoil. They also give you a three-day painful erection, if you don't process it properly first.

And carpathian bees don't buzz- at least not out loud. Carpathian bees use philotes to communicate, and were the first "lower" creatures to be discovered to do so. Someone had a headset on setting up a net and a carpathian bee flew by, landed on his ansible terminal. The buzz was maddening until he took off the headset, so he started checking to see if there was a technical difficulty, but the bee was damned sure broadcasting. it was using a whole array of philotes, some of which connected to its' hive, some to other hives some distance away.

But it wasn't using binary, it was using the philote in ways nobody had ever imagined. There's a whole bee language in the way the philote is arranged.

Think of the particle as a globe with a pole. The bees on Carpath had figured out how to instinctively move that globe around, so that the pole was pointing in any of an infinite number of positions. So you had rotation around x, y, and z, and the particle could also rotate about it's pole, at different speeds. The philote on the other end would do the same.And each bee had multiple philotic links.

Once nature had shown us how it's done, we were able to use this method of passing data to our advantage. It's as if we had all been using morse code and were suddenly given three-d video and smellovision overnight. Whole armies of code monkeys were busy for years thinking of ways to encode information and use the extended abilities of the philote.

So now we can use the ansible to pass hundreds of orders of magnitude of data back and forth between one machine and another. And it's an incredible boon, because we have no practical limitation of what can be delivered or received. It allows us to make the manufacturing operations flexible in ways we never imagined, and it has changed the face of our industry.

And now I have a headache. Damned honey.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Presents from home

During the week I got a note from DSPS that I had a package, but I didn't get a chance to go pick it up until saturday. When I did, it turned out to be a bigger than I had expected, so I had to rent a truck to get it and call a friend to help me drag it upstairs.

it's books. It is a terrible load of books, collected for me by a few of my friends on Earth, mostly classics like Hemmingway and Kipling and Saki and Twain. Many are first editions, a few are signed. There's some good SF in there, and a few nice travelogues.

Pitiably, these are for sale all over the planet cheap because people have lost interest. Shame, really. But still: I have reading material for ages.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Weather on La-A

Due to an odd configuration of icecaps and seas, we have rain which occurs predominantly at night, here. It's nice to get a warm summer rain during the day, most times people stop working and go outside.

Anyway, it's raining outside. The cat dislikes it, so he sits under the bed and surls. I love it, I open the window next to my desk and listen to the rain and feel the moist air.

There's not much that will keep me from going out in the rain, and I have spent so much time out of doors in wet that my employer has gotten me a mil-spec computer that will withstand the abuse. I like being where I can smell the aromas the water brings in from our sixteen great lakes; each lake has its own smell- Ocean smells salty. Violet smells sweet. Deepwater smells faintly of gunpowder. You can smell the direction of the wind by the lake the smell comes from. A wind from the south, brushing across the surface of lake Howard, takes with it the hydrocarbon smell of the oil deposits that bubble to it's surface.

Tonight the rain smells like a fish. Not a dead, slimy gross fish, but a clean, wriggly, freshly caught fish. Lake Hugh is thick with little fish called Greaps that look and act like alewives that taste wonderful with a mustard sauce or in soup, and they give the lake it's distinctive aroma. When I was a kid, we stood on the shores of Lake michigan in Indiana and watched the ore boats wend their way through the forests of windmills. Seeing the unbroken surface of the lakes here is much more enjoyable.

The cat, catching the smell of the greaps comes out from under the bed and asks "I can eat some feesh nao? Want feesh."

I get up and open a can of greap flavored catfood, and place it on a paper plate and carry it into the office and put it on the desk. The cat sits down and begins to delicately eat the food. I peel the tax strip off a fresh bottle of Jamesons and pour a shot.

The warmth of the whisky feels good going down and I rub the cats ears a bit. "We're going to have to get a bigger place if you keep growing." Nothing. Some cats are, apparently, great conversationalists. Mine only whines about food and makes the spare bathroom smell funny.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Long week.

Actually, last two weeks. It's been hellish because of a looming deadline, and because we haev a contract with offworlders to do some of the work on this job, and they are as slow as molasses in January.

And on La-A, January is 42 days long.

ysterday, to top off a real winner of a day to begin with, I cracked my head on the latch of a rotary, and opened a good gash there until I could get a triage nurse to glue it back up for me. It's almost healed now, but at the time I looked like Frankenstein's monster. And last night, I had to watch helplessly as an offworld electron-chaser spent seven hours connecting up an ansible that would have taken me twenty minutes tops.

And then I had to redo most of it after he'd left because he got it mostly wrong.

So I did something I rarely do; I stopped after work for a brew to calm my nerves and reflect on the meaning of life- or at least well chosen hops.

Sitting at the bar feeling a little sorry for myself, contemplating the demise of some of my ill-chosen assistants, and missing my home just a little, a tall drink of water wandered into the bar.

She wasn't from La-A because she wasn't carrying open, though there was a little print on the back of her shirt from what appeared to be a small auto. She had that walk peculiar to the type of people who spend most of their time in artificial gravity, and her clothes were pure Earth.

So I sent over a beer. Matt, the bartender, was a little taken aback- I'm neither a flirt nor the kind of guy who looks for women in bars, but it made me a little less lonesome.

She looked, smiled, and hoisted her mug, and I smiled back, and did the same. I didn't think anything else of it, I just sat back and stared off in space for a while. As I sat there woolgathering, she came over and sat on a stool closer, with an empty stool between us still. That wasn't a surprise, few people want to get THAT close to me. But she had to say hello three times before I quit woolgathering and looked in her direction.

She named herself Bobbi and said she was a tech on a booster. She was from earth, and had been there only a few days earlier, really. I was a little jealous. I explained why, she made suitably sympathetic noises.

She told me a little about things at home, and I told her about tech she could expect to see soon. it was nice to speak to someone outside of my own head who wasn't ten inches tall and furry, and I had a nice time.

I gave her a Nik pen I had given to me about a year back, when I finished a job I was working on at the time. They're not expensive or flashy, but theyre an engineer's pen. One end is a mechanical pencil, the other either a fountain pen or a sharpie, depending on how you take off the cap. The trick is, they never run out of ink or lead- or at least I don't think they can. They MAKE the ink- and the lead- inside the pen. the ink I understand, it absorbs moisture from the air and uses dried concentrate- the lead I just haven't figured out yet. ANyway, I sent it back to Earth with Bobbi. She said she'd look me up if she ever had leave here again, and I hope she does. I hope she didn't mind that the pen glows with my name on the side in the dark.

Anyway, this morning I got a little package marked "Lupine Stores & Carg0" At first it looked like a little snowglobe when I opened it but it turned out to be a little climateblock. A block of lucite with a globe of the earth showing the real-time climate all over the planet, with a little cursor in the base that allowed you to highlight the weather conditions of any major city and quite a few minor ones. I smiled. I have it on my desk now with the current weather for Santa Claus Indiana proudly displayed.

Saturday, March 14, 2009


In the same way that almost nobody writes anything on bare metal anymore, hardly anyone writes low level code either, because groups of routines have been written that are adaptable to almost anything .

Oh, you still have to learn code, the way students once had to learn multiplication tables, but you fought through it and tried to forget it as much as you could.

Programming of controls has a lot to do with what you want them to do. it's not whwt they used to call "Artificial intelligence" but it's useful enough, for specific purposes.

Most of what people do is use prepackaged routines. Most of the routines are in the public domain, and they can be used by anyone. Some specific ones have to be licensed. I have a developers license that allows me to use practically anything, provided I get my customer to purchase individual titles before production starts.

So when I put a system like this together, it's as simple as putting on the headset and calling in routines. Putting them where they belong. Passing through the arguments that allow them to work properly. Testing the outcome.

Knowing how the individual machines function is vital. So is knowing what their limitations are. So it's not as easy as it sounds; though a lot of the footwork has been done, the ability to take all the individual pieces and make them a useful whole is like a jigsaw puzzle and a balancing act and a race to an impossible finish line.

Once in a while, though, there arises a situation for which there is no canned cycle. This happened friday as I was setting up a new system. I had the headset on and was directing traffic.

"Give me a 64 bit Hex/BCD convertor. yes, generic is OK.
Hook the output from that to a linear motion control to transfer the A parts to the first cell. Use an Appomatox or an Nframe. Link that to the drive at address"

"Use..... crap. WHat do I use to tell the first cell how to acquire the part?"

The net took my question seriously and started making suggestions "Scratch that. Hang on a bit"

I took off the headset and started digging around on my phone for a routine. As they scrolled by on the screen it began to dawn on me that there was nothing written for this, that the system was so new that no way had been established to communicate with it.

So I pulled out a keyboard and sat down to kick something together. The new system has all the hooks listed and it's not long before I have a suitable routine. I send off a copy to confirm the copyright, and put it in the data stream. Now everytime someone needs ot connect to this machine they'll use a Morgan 56.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Safety my ass.

For a lot of years, I have been working around equipment dangerous enough that it requires a lot of very specific talents, equipments, and procedures. Some of those procedures are particularly familiar to me, because I wrote them

Almost everyone in the business understands the formula

lg En = K1 + K2 + 1.081 * lgIa + 0.0011 * G

to calculate the incident energy, and

DB = [4.184 * Cf * En * (t / 0.2) * (610x/EB)]1/x (4)

to calculate the flash protection boundary, and there are specific proscriptions for the liklihood of arc flash. Sharp operators will tell you that the best bet is to err on the side of caution, and this is no bad advice. Safety clothing, procedures, and familiarity with the equipment are the real keys to going home in the same condition you went to work.

That being said, there is such a thing as overkill. For the last week I have been working on small helper droid communications with the big machines and big droids. They are adequately inexpensive that full ansibles are impractical, and they don't need to move but a few inches, so we used good old fashioned 1000 baseT. Yeah, for all you keyboard jockeys, Ethernet.

So I've found and purchased a set of crimpers on SkyBay, and even managed to find a couple hundred old crimp connectors. Category cable was harder to find in good shape, but I got the thirty or so meters that I needed.

So I'm standing in front of the cabinet. Not the main cabinet, mind you, that has all the high power stuff in it (all of which is of course intrinsically safe and don't even have to be cabinet mounted) but the comm cabinet. And one of the customer's safety assholes waddles up and gives me a ration of shit.

"You need to be wearing safety equipment to be working in a live electrical cabinet. Shut that and suit up, or I'll escort you out of the building myself."

This is a customer, and a big one. So I cannot explain to the safety asshole that she wouldn't know a hazard if it crawled up her ass.

So I shut the cabinet and suit up. An Arcflash suit, for those of you who have never seen one, is a featureless jumpsuit capped off by a large hood, including a nonconducting and flame retardant supplied air system. It's like wearing a bear.

To connect a comm cable.

So I do it, grumbling all the while, and get the job done.

And while I do, I use the above formula to calculate the danger of arc flash.

I have a pretty good head for figures, and I can calculate Pi in my head to about thirty significant figures before I have to start writing numbers down, but I ran out of decimal places.

In other words, the liklihood of me being subjected to an arc flash at +/-five volts at a few microamps are... well, I can't actually use this handheld device to type that many zeroes in a row.

At the end of the day, sweaty and in a foul mood, the safety asshole stopped by to pat herself on the back at her prudence and demonstrate her superiority to me. I endured her lecture until she pulled out the Morgan's electrical reference, and started tapping on the cover. "Can I see that a second?" I asked. She handed it to me and I opened it to the page where it discussed the hazards for comm connectivity. "here's the section for DataComm. It says you need Level Zero protection. Level Zero is a cotton Tshirt and a pair of cotton pants."

"I suppose you know more than the author of this guide" she smirked.
'No. I know exactly as much as the author of that guide. Would you like me to autograph it for you?"

She looked at me like the dumbass that she is, and I handed her a card. She compared the name on the card and the name in the frontspiece of the book, and stormed off in a huff.

I am surrounded by some of the finest engineers in the universe, and we are annoyed by some of the stupidest ones. After all, if you can't engineer anything yourself, why not act as an obstruction to those who can?

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Join the club

I have been asked, so I did. There's a small range in my neighborhood, and when I rented this place it had a ten yard range with three stations parallel to the laundry room.

But I like to shoot things further away. So I've been competing at a local club, and I've often stopped in to help with range setup and teardown, putting up barricades for matches, that sort of thing.

Last month they asked me to join. THis is a private club which holds invitational matches, and it's a nice club not far from here. I will be the first non-military member. I feel as if I have been handed a great honor, to hang with servicemen and women who walked the walk. I will do my best to deserve it.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Where I live:

Notwithstanding the fact that about 85% of the things people use day to day are shipped from here, almost nobody knows about La-a. Some of the people who LIVE here don't even know how to pronounce it.

On the earth, in pre-squirt days, people still looked up at the stars with wonder. A couple of companies actually went so far as to give themselves the responsibilities for assigning naming rights. Yeah, right. As if that made a hill of beans difference to anyone.

Problem was, companies like International Star Registry had made fairly detailed location maps of star locations, and had assigned names to the visible stars, and quite a few that were invisible to the naked eye. Once the squirt drives had been perfected and the cost associated with moving from star to star had been minimalized, the Star Registry was the only body with an accurate positional listing of many of the stars that had been visited. And a brief but flamboyant court battle made the names stick.

Fortunately, the odds were good, and a lot of stars with really horrible names had no habitable or mineable planets. Sure, some poor bastards got stuck with "James Earl Carter" and "Bart Simpson" but for the most part the systems just had simple names.

Our system was, painfully, not as lucky. We ended up La-a Williams. It's pronounced LaDasha. I kid you not. But we don't mind. We ship millions of metric tonnes of machines, can openers, barbecue grills, pocketknives, deodorant, window glass, and artifical limbs, among many other things. They all proclaim proudly: "Made on La-a". Six trillion people prounounce it "LA" "A"

We don't care. It pays well. At least we're not "dildo-1"

Monday, March 2, 2009

Range time.

I spend a certain amount of time at the range, like everyone here. Offworlders are often amazed by the number of short and long ranges here, and it's the rare neighborhood that doesn't have at least a short range. Most people have ten yard ranges in their yards. The sound of gunfire isn't common, though, because most people have supressors and noise cancelling equipment. And accidents are- well, on La-a people start shooting as soon as they can walk.

Which is not to say that people don't get shot. I have a bullet wound in my left shoulder, and I like it fine. I don't go out of my way to show it off, but I will roll up my sleeve if asked, and I buy shirts that can be rolled up easily.

A bullet wound- of a very specific type- is like a duelling scar here. To compete, you have to have an instructor certify you, and the instructor and you take turns shooting practically at one another. You stand directly next to his target, he to yours. At 100 yards, with a fine small caliber rifle using iron sights and cast lead bullets.

he can see your target, you can see his, but at these distances you have no idea how you're doing without a scope. To qualify you have to exceed a mimimum score, and then you can compete. If your instructor is confident you have exceeded HIS score, he has the option of taking a non-fatal shot at you. I shot a 100. Ten tens. With three in the X ring. He shot six tens, two fliers, and a nine. And he knew it. He picked out the fliers, and his last shot grazed my arm.

I shouldered my rifle, walked to the middle of the range,and shook his hand, the blood trickling down my upper arm. I grinned. The shot burned. I had him sign the wound and later had the sigiature tattooed in place.

People think with all the technology here we would use blasters and lasers and pulse weapons, but the truth is, so many geeks live here that there are about a thousand basement gunsmiths that make fine light arms in a tradition dead all over the universe.

I have tried my hand at pistol competition but I'm a duffer at my very best. My first love is rifle shooting, small caliber, single shot, cast bullets. An old world skill, useless except for the entertainment value.

Well,I'm entertained, anyway.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

You would think

That a guy who worked, long ago, on machines that were fed their instructions on paper tape, would remember the difference between a byte and a word.

Setting up the new ansible for the new droid, I configured the machines to read the data stream in 32 bits, and the robot and the machine were communicating nicely but wouldn't pass data. They yapped back and forth for four hours but would not give me the data I wanted for love nor money.

I kept scratching and never did figure out what was going on, so I put on the headset and linked directly in.

Anyone who has never been inside has only a dim idea what it's like, and it ain't pretty. Imagine being in a barrel where you can hear the voices of a thousand people all apparently reciting numbers at random. You have to somehow find and zero in on the data stream you want, while ignoring the ones you don't like. It can cause madness but I'm a little more immune to it than others, having been slightly modified during my recovery when I hit the planet.

Anyway, I put on the headset and listened until I could hear the distinctive voice of my droid, and the machines it was speaking with. I managed to drown out all the other voices on the subnet, and I could hear the pinging back and forth, and I ended up having to unplug the headset for a minute to back down the baudrate so I could understand better. I jacked in again and saw the stream loud and clear, and then it dawned on me, the data coming out of the droid was two words and the machine wanted four, the machine sending four and the droid expected two.

Odd how that hundreds-of-years-old convention is still biting us in the ass, after all this time.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

New ansible

The philotic stream stays the same but the ways to tweak it are numerous and complex. Seems that some full-bore tank geeks (guys with brain enhancements that force them to open their crania and allow their cerebellum, chemically enhanced, to expand into a small tank of sterile solution) (it looks like one of those old Luge helmets) discovered a way to add a layer of subnet to an existing philotic stream, and then abandoned the knowledge. We have figured a way to access this datapipe, and will be using it to pass manufacturing info to the droids from the machines- the droids, having a slighltly higher level of sentience than the machines, can then make some sense of the data they receive and make decisions based on that data.
Yeah, exciting stuff, right? But this is what I do, and it means higher quality parts, and better response time, and less downtime, which is all part of bringing things to the consumer faster, better, cheaper.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


I grew up on Old Earth and have- obviously- taken only one interstellar trip. So when I got here there was a lot of culture shock. See, Old Earth had become such an artifact that very little in the way of new had been added in thousands of years. I was perfectly familiar with the way early 21st century humans would have lived, because I lived that way. Hell, I still do. here, on the other hand...

Like the cars. Big thirsty rides. Lots of petro industry here, the cars run efficiently from a pollution standpoint (precious little exhaust but water). I'd never seen an engine of more than 6 cylinders outside a museum, but now I have two cars, and the small one is a V12. It's considered an economy car. Screaming fast. A lot of tech like that. Animals are another thing. There's hunting and fishing, though it's considered very bad form to wound an animal- but just about every animal has been domesticated through genetics. Sure, a tame housepet lion isn't exactly a lion anymore, but some people have odd fetishes.

Me, I'm happy with a housecat. I ended up with a stray that sat on the hood of my car one day, and claimed me. He seemed perfectly ordinary for over a year until one afternoon, napping off the throes of a particularly nasty hangover, he crawled up on my pillow and loudly said "WER IZ MAH DINNR?

I rolled over, certain it was an hallucination, but he stood on my throbbing coconut and repeated "WER IZ MAH DINNR?"

A little stunned, I wandered out into the kitchen and opened a tin of catfood, put it in his bowl.

I went back to bed and wrote the day off as a bad dream, and tried to forget. And then later in the year I mentioned my cat to a co-worker (this was after Ben had moved out). My co worker said "Oh! Has he started talking yet?"

I forced my mouth closed, unaware that my hallucinations were visible to others, and said- cautiously- "yes".

"It's great when they talk, innit? I mean, I can't imagine how lonely I'd be if not for my kitties"

SO cats here talk. Mine doesn't say much, and it still freaks me a bit when he does, but mostly he tells me when someone has been around when I'm not home, how many times the phone rings while I'm gone, and a lot of "WER IZ MAH DINNR". There were a few more revelations and adjustments I'd have to make, but this was one of the first ones.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

One trick pony? Not today

Today I began by running to the central offices of Redd Shyft to get some new documentation proofread, pickup a handful of modified matter-transformer brackets, drove back to a customer to help pull out a bad coolant pump and replace it with a new pump/offal separator, design a new fixture for a cartesian matter transformer, and finally put some new tooling in a rotary machine. A half dozen different disciplines, without any transition between one and another, all continuous.

As I do this, I work with a dozen or so colleagues, all specialists of one type or another. SOme are OK at what they do, some are good. Three, today, are classic One Trick Ponies. Guys who do one thing, and do it extremely well, do it so well that when they do it it looks like poetry. A guy, today, setting up a droid transit unit that alows the droids to deal with loads even beyond their normal payload. He tightens the bolts and gently taps the rails, using a microscope with an optical comparator to make sure the rails are perfectly aligned, his every motion synchronized, his every move coordinated with his apprentices and his tools. It looks incredible and when he's done, a piece of equipment will exist where it didn't before, and it will outlast him and me, and our children's children, if maintained properly.

Sometimes I look at the incredible elegance of those one trick ponies, and think, man, I wish I could do one thing, so well, so elegantly, so wonderfully. Instead, I do the things that I do with some measure of skill, and some level of learn-as-you-go, but I get the job done. And I rely on te masters for some projects that wouldn't otherwise be possible. And I learn when I can.

I master some things. I've mastered a half dozen disciplines, am adept at a dozen more, am adequate at a thousand. It's my nature to be bored by repetition. Still.

Monday, February 16, 2009

When I landed here

those seventeen years ago, I stayed heavily sedated for most of the four months that I underwent treatment. THe starship company whose cruiser i rode was more than generous and got me housing for several years after. I took advantage of the situation by subletting the spare room, which paid most of my education expenses. My roommate at the time was also suffering from the latent aftereffects of HFD, and we kept a close eye on each other lest we began to be a danger to ourselves.

Ben, my roomie, was a student like me, and while I was studying engineering he was trying to avoid an educaton in Chemistry. He never quite did, but he managed to drag the normal two year process out for five. Most of the time he spent laying around in his underwear, watching old videos and farting. We got along fine.

One night, when he and I were both in our cups, he confided to me that he'd wanted to be a skypilot as well, and tears welled in his eyes for a moment as he spoke lyrically of the huge deepness of space. I tossed back another shot lest I lost control myself, and poured another round. 'To lost opportunities" I toasted.

He went on to found a major petrochem company, but I can still remember him sitting there on the couch with his sweaty BVD's on, scratching his ass, picking zit scabs off the back of his thighs and absently eating them. Eyes moist from the thought of his loss, breath smelling of scotch. What happens to lost dreams that are replaced by newer, less bold ones?

Friday, February 13, 2009

Are we men or are we machine tenders?

Well, for the most part, we are machine tenders. In order for the quality of your eggbeater, or your alternator, or your squirt-booster engine to be predictable, and reliable, and dependable, it has to be manufactured to pretty exacting tolerances, and humans are not capable of the kind of precision required to produce these things in large quantities.

A single human- skilled human, that is, can make a single part so perfect as to defy the imagination. But the system falls down when you get to a thousand of those parts, or a hundred thousand, or a billion. At that level, when you are supplying parts ot the known universe, they have to be perfect, and every one has to be perfect. And there can be no failure.

Ande no human can do it. It is at the core of human nature to despise the repetetive (though left to our own devices we won't change a thing about our lives). We hate doing the same thing over and over again, because it drives us batshit crazy.

Additionally, a lot of the piece parts my customers make are damned difficult to manufacture, and or even pick up without heavy lifting equipment. Let alone dangerous, or sharp, or toxic, or gamma-hot.

So droids do the work. Built to do the repetitive. Built to do the drudge work. Incapable of reason, they are capable of repeating a task for as long as their servos and bearings and lubricants hold together- and Big Yellow makes droids that have a mean time between failure that I wish I could get for my knees.

Subsequently? Humans tend to clean up machine poo. Each type of machine manufactures a specific type of component with a specific set of materials, and the by products pile up quickly and need to be removed lest the machines get covered in it, and encased in it.

The machines are well trained, and tend to leave their offal in neat piles inside containers, which humans with forlifts take off to be re-fired or refined. It's not hard work, it's usually not too dirty, and it's essential. And the people cleaning machine poo tend to be better paid than their skilled trade counterparts a generation earlier.

I decided I would never spend my life cleaning the litterbox for an oversized cat, so I design and implement systems. The work isn't hard, though some tasks can be, and the overall impression is one of creative goofing off.


Most of the equipment I deal with is droid serviced. Humans could do it, but are incapable of the speed, accuracy, and sheer capability of the droids- many of them pick up loads in excess of the mas of a groundcar. But Sir Isaac was a fool. The idea of a positronic brain that can be programmed to obey laws? Rubbish, pure and simple. No brain of any value to anyone can ever be made so it is even remotely "safe".

So here are the three rules of robotics that are actually true:
1: The droid will do precisely the stupid thing you told it to do, with maximum efficiency.
2: No droid will do what you want it to do, unless you specifically tell it to.
3: never make a droid that cannot be overrided with perfect ease.

I have one in the system I'm working on now. When it gets ramped up another will join it . I have it under power, and last week I was teaching it the new ansible links, and getting very frustrated. It simply wouldn't respond to the comm, and I kept pinging and pinging and pinging, and it would return the ping, but little more.

So finally I backed off, asked it why it wouldn't talk to the machines on the subnet and it said "What machines on the subnet?"

I had uploaded all the comm parameters and all the subnet info, and had failed to establish nodes for all the ansible links. I typed in the nodes by hand- a little laborious, and kinda silly, keying info directly into the droid's face- but the machines all came online and started yapping back and forth. I let them yap all weekend and they have a solid link established which I'll just copy/paste over to the other droid on wednesday, when the next one arrives.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

What I do

I do it all. Well, I think the better answer to this, is I take the things other people make, and use them to make things other people use. The company I work for sells cartesian mass modifiers, and rotary mass modification equipment, industrial droids, and a variety of other stuff. I take those things and turn them into factories. The factories make everything you see every day.

This is what I do. I don't make the things you use and see every day, I make the factories that make those things. Yeah, that's probably the most elegant way to put it.

At the bottom of a well

I landed here seventeen years ago, a blue and brown dot at the bottom of a gravity well.

I have a malformation in a portion of my brain that causes me some trouble outside of normal space. Not common but not fun. I spent four months in a hospital getting my thoughts unscrambled before I could function again, and the bottomline is, I won't be doing any squirting anytime soon. I can survive it, and the recovery process has become faster so people with my condition (Hopkin F-dysplasia) can even travel after some prep and caution, but I won't be doing it again. Six hours at a time for four months on a table with the top of my head unscrewed was enough to convince me.

I came here on my way to the academy. This was a short hop before the long trip, i was going to be a squirt booster pilot, and I had ranked top in my class back at home. I had promise. And then I discovered I had HFD.

So here I sit, in the butthole of the universe. It's not so bad, actually, and i like it here fine. Warm summers. Not so cool winters. Sandy beaches and clean water. Decent folks who work hard, government which is so unintrusive as to barely exist.

It's a factory planet. I discovered that the same attention to detail i enjoy when I was studying for my pilot's exams lend themselves to my skills as an induistrial engineer, which I matriculated at in record time, and now I work for Redd-Shyft.

I still have a little hollow in my soul for the deepness of space, and the fact that I won't be out there folding space annoys me a little. On the other hand, the things i do, the parts my customers make, the whole of the universe needs. Right here, I have control over the manufacture of every klystron, every squirt booster tube, every piece of hardware that is used in the entire industry- not to say just about every flatscreen, happy meal, and can opener in use. More later.