Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Starship Maintenance

"Co-workers are people who know all your faults -- and would dislike you even more if you didn't have them."

Spent the better part of the day removing wires that went from Ending Unconnected to Noplace Useful and/or vice versa, and when I say "wires" I mean "instrumentation and signal cable" -- UTP, STP, coaxial cable, multiconductor cables and so on. To the tune of about three 55-gallon drums full.

It didn't start out that way. We're relocating a slew[1] of servo and instrumentation amplifiers to improve performance and maintenance access and in the course of this, discovered some of our peers had decided the best way to "remove" unneeded cabling was to clip the ends and tuck it under the computer-type flooring. (Removable 2' x 2' deck plates with about 18" of wiring depth under 'em). This is not actually such a great idea for two reasons: A) There is only that foot-and-a-half of room and B) Service Life Weight Gain, which is not your Uncle Ted retiring from the Navy two hundred pounds heavier then when he enlisted but what happens to ships, airplanes and starships when some people leave the nonfunctional bits in place. We got two amplifiers moved and found ourselves out of room, snared like hapless insects in a spider's web.

Rather than kvetch or give up, it occurred to C. Jay and myself that this was A Wonderful Opportunity! We lifted up and stacked the deckplates with joyous abandon and told Navs we'd have some mass overboard by the end of the first watch, numbers to follow and did they have a preferred vector to guide our selection of hatches to haul it to for disposal? (Drive Control is right around the corner and told us it wasn't going to make any difference but The Forms Must Be Observed -- and filled out, or it's a bad time when the Chief finds out).

Navigation didn't care, just wanted to know the mass of the mess. We wanted to know it too: wanted to know it was gone! With a bitta red tape to make the dead 'uns and a very own personal diagonal cutters, we set to with a will; my peer broke for lunch and I filled about half a barrel while he ate, then went off to the little automated "breakroom" mess near Engineering myself, where a committee of upper-decks types were in the process of getting a head start on the holidays by setting up a small Christmas tree. I am what I am: took a couple'a minutes to check that all the pretty bits were properly secured, then asked where they proposed to mount it: "If you leave it on that table, the Second Watch gang will have eaten most of it by dinnertime."[2]
"Oh, we'll put it here by the door -- just have to move that waste can... Ummm."
"It's a hatch, not a door.[3] Can's bolted down, see the flanges? It'll move, there's inserts all over the deck, just get it fastened back down[4] and don't block any accesses or the vending machines." (Yeah, vending machines: the Starship Company is only too happy to provide candy and cupcakes...at twice the dirtside price: they didn't just float here by magic!)

Lunch over (pastrami and Swiss cheese on whole wheat, it is so worth fixin' personal electronics for the cooks), I went back to discover even more floor opened up and one drum filled and closed with nothing but dead wires -- and even more on the floor. C. Jay was laughing:
"Half of these are for the Pine Hills Three Thousand drive controller -- we took that thing out out in 1995!"
"Nothing else aboard uses these connectors!" (Holding up a mutant D-series plug).
"Geesh," digging into the tangle and yanking on a likely wire, "Is this that same cable?"
"Yeah, just a sec...." snip "Connector's off now, haul away!"

...And so passed the rest of the afternoon (with a short break to fire up a new comms circuit back to the home port, yet another "improvement" in ansible design, one that cuts the round-trip time for the signals down to mere 15 minutes and hardly ever breaks up, yeah sure), until the Second Watch early birds showed up, made a try at gawking and found themselves put to work on the project, too. Eventually, we worked the cables that were still connected at one end back to either the high-precision reference distribution -- 'cos, you know, it's fine if the primary frequency standard for the stardrive crashes because some tekkie was too lazy to remove a dead wire and it got shorted and we have to get out and push -- or the external imaging -- like we care to see where we're going? We left the next watch to get the rest of the deck plates back down, loaded our drums onto powered two-wheelers, and sent the drums and the miles of wire in 'em off on the first steps of their trip overboard, to vaporization at the drive field interface. Good riddance!

...In hindsight, we could have just left 'em in the breakroom with a sign warning not to eat the wires; they'd've been gone by our next watch. I'm just about certain of it.

Naturally, the Chief cast a fishy eye at the proceedings.
"You didn't get the amplifiers moved?"
"Boss? Have a look in here..." (Leading him to the area where we'd been working and a third of the deck was still opened up)
"Whoa. Isn't that where we had to use long bolts to pull the plates down on the cabling?"
"It used to be..."
"All right then. Continue. And get those amplifiers relocated!"

All in a day's work.
1. This is a weak electronics in-joke. Measured in Volts per microSecond.
2. Utterly true. There is nothing the Second Watch won't eat if they find it on a table in the break room. No matter how long it has sat out or what biohazard signage is on it.
3. Hatch, deck, bulkhead, overhead, ladderway -- I know what you called similar things back in Duluth but Duluth isn't moving at transluminal speeds, okay? The first starships past the R & D stage were built from salvaged WW II Navy vessels and it's become tradition. Also? Were the doors back in Duluth airtight?
4. Sad but true: we spend considerable time in zero-G every trip -- and some crew members still can't wrap their heads around the idea that things.have.to.be.secured. Lunch, for instance; but that's another peeve.


Turk Turon said...

"Ah, you see? This is an example of smartness, here. I have said that this is the quick fuse? And this is the quick fuse."

Captain Tightpants said...

I just want to give a general "thanks" miss -

They may be "simple blog posts" but I LOVE the starship stories! They just make me smile & picture fictional characters, or old RPG games & imagine the stuff going on behind the scenes that the others never realize...

So thanks for writing yet another one, and you have a great gift for the way you do it.

phlegmfatale said...

Nice work, if you can get it. Clearing away can be so therapeutic.

Anonymous said...

Having spent not nearly enough time while skinny enough to fit under such deck plates as would qualify me to write/kvetch/approve jettisoning, this one hit closer to my last stint in engineering than any of the rest so far.

And I love it. Hell, I almost miss crawling around down there in the dark with half a spool of wire and a flashlight with bad batteries with the cooling dialed to meat locker. 'Course if I get my hands on the SOB that parked a palette load of parts over my exit hole... well, I digress. At any rate, I love the stardrive posts, and sooner or later you're going to have to gather them up and put forth a novel. J. Michael Strazyniski got a great episode out of similar for Babylon 5 ("A View From the Gallery"), and so far you can at the very least pull even story-wise if you throw a bit of unifying plot at the techno-side.

Anonymous said...

I love it when you get all spacey and talk electronical industrialated gibberish! You did leave out the part about translocating the manifold encabulator; so what did you do with it?

Really strange is that although I worked in a totally unrelated industry for 41 years, I still have an inkling of what's going on. I guess there is a standard for certain types of management induced asshattery (to borrow a very scientific term...)

The Captain said...

I once worked at a place that had four feet of clearance under the raised floor. It was glorious.

One year, on Take Your Daughter to Work Day, a tour of the data center was given. A tech lifted a floor tile to show the clearance to the young ladies...

... and a guy in a fright mask popped out and scared the daylights out of everyone! Hilarious!

Arthur said...

I would have thought that techs - given to working with the sort of frequencies you deal with on a regular basis - wouldn't leave unterminated conductors laying around just out of habit.

I guess not.

Anonymous said...

There's nothing quite so gratifying as removing several generations/layers of wiring to make room for your new stuff.

I'm doing that now, in a house purchased from an ex-f-i-l. I'm expecting to hit the knob-and-post stuff on the next pass...

Anonymous said...

unless it's over 14 gauge, you'll only get say a buck and a quarter a pound for it


Anonymous said...

We had 18" of clearance under our floors. Used a R/C toy to pull the nylon cord which then pull cable. Tracked vehicles work best. Remove all external lights, roll bars, rocket launchers ... You only have to pull tiles at turn or termination points.

Roberta X said...

Rickn8r, be wary of the tube-and-knob stuff; it's very stingy of neutrals, sharing one between several circuits (one per floor in a house I lived in years ago!) and usually dating from before easy color-coding. They used white chalk to mark the neutral but it rarely lasts. The older splices will be soldered, under rubber tape wrapped with friction tape, and solid as a rock.

Stretch, if only! Where we're workin' right now, the floor's now down to half-full, and very rugged terrain for an RC vehicle. We use long, thread-togther fiberglass wire-fishing rods when we can't take up the floo. Works very well as long as there no conduit or power-wring duct in the way.

Arthur, you would think that -- and so would I. We'd be wrong. :(

Anonymous said...

You might be able to train a fairly large rat to pull cable for you. You could train it to go to a beeping food dispensor.

Keep the rat out of the lunchroom, of course.

When we pull com cables and multiconductor, we assign a datecode and number, gets heatshrinked on both ends. If it gets made redundant, we yank it and pull a nylon in it's path.

Anonymous said...

Belatedly, the sound of a multi-pin connector being cut off a bundle - surplus or not - would make a suitable soundtrack if Wes Craven directs my bio ;)