Monday, August 11, 2008

Splice The Main Space-Brace

Or whatever it is they do when success rears its happy, ugly head on a biggo starshipish device. One-third of the Stardrive decided to go belly-up last week, which is not so good when you've got cargo from Beijing to haul to the waiting colonists liberators on Whackiedudes 17.

Naturally it was a part costs us $32K, American, one that weighs way more than one person can lift and is a bit too (whisper it!) dangerous for one person to install and -- of course! -- it arrived late on a sunny Thursday.

Oh-ho, sez Your Scribe, I shall just talk Handsome Dave into helping: he's sharp, he's strong and he's "we've changed out a phantasmajector together before;" and we'll get a nice early start Friday so he won't miss his treasured Friday night fun (this involves a tall cold one and removing the pager and celphone batteries, I'm told, and such is the nature of our employment that I envy him). Can you hear the Muse of Irony snickering behind her lace hankie already?

Can you hear the reason I did things like miss a friend's birthday?

Natch-o, that particular phantasmajector had been laboring in-socket (to the extent they have sockets, which they mostly don't) for lo, seven years, which meant the deuterium-filled multi-kiloWatt thyratron had to go, too, and it's not socketed even a little, but wired up by spider-trolls and, like flowers, no two are quite alike; and there are some delicate little bits elsewhere that interface with the phantasmajector that must be replaced after seven year's running.

Starting at the stroke of eight, or a few strokes in, it's 2 hours from the tableful-of-tools-and-high-hopes to having the stardrive assembly unshipped far enough to even think about removing the old phantasmajector, let alone dropping the new one in, reassembling, reconnecting (liquid-cooled it is, mind you, and operates at -36,000 Volts and a handful of Amperes) and starting to get the new one happy. Meanwhile, the thyratron has just about taken Handsome Dave on the first round and is insisting on best two in three.

With one thing and another, it was well past four pip emma when everything were reassembled enough to begin the slow and awkward process of applying power. Start new or let is run in idle overnight to get all happy? Much unhappiness and debate; we end up making the fateful decision to proceed.

...Nineteen ghastly hours (have I mentioned this is all in "Hearing Protection Required" land and involves some mild hazmat? It is. It does) and untold excitement later, H. D. has stopped talking (visions of a frosty longneck and no telecomms long abandoned), I'm incoherent, and the phantasmajctor? She no worky. At the very last step in the process ("Return connections to normal, all breakers ON, increase power level slowly to 100%), things go all pear-shaped and shut down, loudly, at 40% power. Every time. She not even wanna worky.

So there we are, out at the end of a long limb, havin' to crawl back down. I didn't even bother to ask H. D. about working the next day; I'll be lucky if he will even speak to me this week.

....A day, a bath and a hot meal later, Conan The Objectivist (another of my hapless victims) and I yanked the stardrive assembly out, tore it down and there, nestled well into the primary resonant cavity, lay the culprit: a scrap of red plastic smaller than a child's fingernail paring next to the little arc-shot pit it had etched into the silver-plated brass. A mere six hours after that, the stardrive array was runnin' sweet and hot -- and I'd shot another weekend all to flinders.

The fun, it is pretty much endless. So to speak.


Anonymous said...

All that technical jargon is way over my head. I am glad you were not wisked away to an alternate reality in a blue puff and pixie dust. ;)

Turk Turon said...

Sounds like a final amplifier to me. Hmmm... cavity, eh? Perhaps one of those big copper-and-ceramic klystrons? The big ones that have to be lifted by hoists?

Mucho dinero!

Mark said...

I find that derhympulating the frobnosticator can often clear up little spats like that.

I also drink a lot of cough syrup.

Drang said...

Which reminds me of the look on the faces of the electronics techs as they walked into the Voice Intercept bay, and realized in dismay that the computer the Army had spent so much time training them on--"There is only one other server like this in the Army, it's in Korea, we keep this one here at the Schoolhouse to train you on it"--had been so heavily modified and kludged over the years that DEC would barely have recognized it as a PDP11 series.

Hmmm, "Type the characters you see in the picture above", it sez, but there IS NO PICTURE!

That's better.

Adrian K said...


My brain just core-dumped.