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.