Monday, May 2, 2011

Howdy, folks!

I wish i could say I'd been away because of some intrigue or adventure, but I've just been living my life.

I've been shooting a lot and have gotten good at some fast close in stuff. I had surgery to repair some damage to my knees, which has helped my movement a good deal, and there have been a lot of visits from home, Mom and Dad came out to see me, and stayed, they liked it here enough. I'll get more down soon, and work is calming down a bit. Sorry it's been so long.

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.