Tuesday, November 18, 2008

So You'd Like To Be A Starship Tekkie?

We have Starship Troopers a-plenty, good ones in print, doofy ones on film, their flip side warring stars; there is no dearth of Starship Troupers, either, playin' at bein' Browncoats, Purplebellies, Imperial Storm Troopers, Space Marines or whatever at sci-fi and gaming 'cons and -- oh, dear! -- sometimes in RL, too.

That's fine. But to get 'em wherever they are going to meet new friends and blow them up takes tech. And to keep the tech tickin', you gotta have Tekkies.

That's me. Broken fingernails, solder-singed, pocket full of tiny screwdrivers and the most specialized multitools, hair never quite right and always short of time.

Today was pretty typical -- had to shuttle over to the main hull early to meet up with the factory rep from Tweed who was gonna check out our new stardrive spacewarp controller, way newer design than the old one, better hardware and a whole different software engine. I had hand-ported the settings over from the old one two months ago (!!!), a high-tech process involving a legal pad, a fresh #2 pencil and a whole lotta time -- also considerable head-scratching, since the new gear does not use quite the same terminology. As in, "wholly different words for the same thing." So, the man from Tweed was there in the main airlock, waitin'; signed him in with Security, got him issued a cardkey (opens doors, keeps the drones from stickywebbing him in the corridors) and an air tag, also good for free coffee in the lounge. Introduced him around, showed him the hardware, chatted about what I'd got done and sat him down at an unused terminal to start doping it out.

I couldn't hang around long, the sensor techs had a rigger up the mast installing a new and better camera (1080i: full HDTV, low-light to full solar, full remote control, everything you might want in a visible-light imager -- which died hard in the last two installation attempts) and were wondering about some odds and ends I had done; halfway through that, a minor alert sent me scurrying to the Drive Control Room: ten miles away at the far end of the main boom where the warp generators live, compartment temperature was over 80 and climbing!

That called for a quick and nasty intercom chat with Environment/Physical Plant, who have full telemetry and control...along with a highly territorial attitude. "You'll 'look at it when you have time?' Fine, whenever, if the stardrive goes offline, you can explain it to the Old Man!" 'Scroom. I'll walk home.

...And back to the Tweed guy, who -- yayy! -- is pretty pleased with the hand-carried settings but A) needs to fine tune 'em and B) wants a port to look at the bitstream this gadget hands off to the 'drive. Get that set up, cable strung across the Equipment Room, when the brass to whom I answer come by to meet our visitor and ask after an invoice from the riggers and another one from a fiber-optic supplier that appear to have my initials on them. Unh, oopsie? Then there's a different monitor port needed to look at another aspect of the stardrive control (crammin' a huge starship into tiny wormholes across vast distances is not even a little easy), and for that one, I take a minor bit of on-line monitoring off line, warn the op in Drive Control what we're about, and hook to that.

So it goes until about lunchtime, when the Special Projects Chief comes by to point out I have a mandatory "Zero-G/High Voltage/The Same Mass" 3-hour training refresher starting in under an hour, no, 45 minutes, no skipping it like I did the last one, and by the time I get the Tweed tech squared away foodwise, I'm at table in the main hull mess hall (hahaha), a tuna salad sammich and a cuppa' hot tea before me and fifteen minutes to make it go away. No sooner have I taken the last bite than there's a Thump! and I get summoned to the cargo hatch (I leave our factory tech at the table with directions back and a reminder to hang onto that cardkey!), where a crew has just arrived with a steerable 5-meter comms dish, salvage from a decommissioned vessel and scheduled (by what lunatic? --Their employer's whim, it turns out) to be bolted in place right-the-devil-now today, aligned and tuned at some unknown future date

By the time that's accomplished I'm not exactly late to the refresher; I sign in and slip into a seat at the back of the compartment as a Security guy in a spiffy uniform up front is pointing out the (very real) Dangers Of Alcohol and How Long It Lingers.

--At which point my beeper buzzes. Message from the Drive Control Op (new shift -- it's four hours max time on duty when we're under warp) wantin' to know why Minor Bit Of On-Line Monitoring is reporting Major troubles; I skedaddle out to the equipment room, check with the Tweed rep ("Done with that part?" "Yep!"), set it back to normal and hightail back to the mandatory refresher in time to learn that Fatigue is one of the prime causes of what we are not calling "accidents." Along with Haste and Distraction (though the latter two may in fact be tiny imps that ride on my shoulders all day). This continues, with graphic -- and genuinely instructional -- videos of not-accidents ("wrecks" "failures" "explosive decompression due to extreme stupidity") for the next three hours with one five minute break, which I get to occupy by finding misfiled schematics of another part of sensor array for the techs working on the new camera.

Once that's over (and I didn't win a door prize: either a key fob with the ship's crest, or a fanny pack "guaranteed to hold under up 4Gs." Maybe), I've got about an hour left on my shift to gather what info I can from the factory tech, do my paperwork and set things up for the next day. With a little luck, tomorrow I'll be able to learn something of what he knows.

What minty-fresh hell is this? It's just a typical day keepin' the starship runnin'. Some people herd sheep; some people balance books. Me, I balance eggs on plates spinning atop poles -- and sometimes drop a few.

It's not heroic but somebody's got to do it.


Turk Turon said...

Wonderful post!

Captcha: locar

Anonymous said...

Sounds like an average day at sea to me. Minus the people coming and going and going and coming...and always too soon!turing word bumen what we wil all be doing Jan 20th?
Rey B

alan said...

I too always identified more with Scotty down in Engineering.

Paul said...

I had no freaking clue what you were talking about the entire time, yet I somehow still enjoyed this post.

Captcha: forgoet. Good advice when in doubt.

Anonymous said...

Try this once in a while: "Let me look at it, I prob'ly wont make it worse."

wv: tinfulo Shiny side out?

Anonymous said...

If it were easy, anybody could do it and there would be no fame, glory, honor and vast renumeration$.

And the mouth-breathers on the other end of all this have no concept of how the pretty pictures are made.

Carteach said...

I understood every single word, especially the ones not typed in.
Living in another variation of that same universe helps me understand.

You have my respect! Not many can work that function in a starship and keep the efficiency and efficacy cranked up. Scotty always made it look smooth and easy, and I bet you do to. Then again, I am certain you are far better looking while stuck a jeffries tube with high voltage crackling around you.

Home on the Range said...

Thanks for the many many plates you don't drop. We trust you to continue to circumvent the time dilation issue and keep us in warp drive.

Great post!

New Jovian Thunderbolt said...

Gott im Himmel, but I lurve these posts.

Anonymous said...

@rickn8or - If it was easy, they would have hired an entry-level. Cheaper, easier to replace, illusions of management infallibility still intact.

Anonymous said...

My days are not as hectic, anymore, but the same sort of things. Usually the bangs are bigger, and more destructive, but we have a team of good folks to pound the sheet metal back flat again. Entropy warriers are the shiznit

Anonymous said...

Don't usually like to me-too, but manoman, I really love this stuff.

Good job!


TW: pelsh -- What you do when the stardrive goes out. "What are you going to do, get out and pelsh?"

tooldieguy said...

Great post! If you need a new multiple plate pole with frictionless bearings let me know ;-)

Anonymous said...

"... singed fingers..."
As we used to say about the blind
ham in the next town south of us,
"You can tell he's been soldering
by the band-aids on his fingers."
Great post. I was on the other side
of things, to wit:
"There's nothing more dangerous than
air talent with a tweaker's
Anon, Don