Wednesday, December 17, 2008

It Never Rains But It Sleets. Torrentially.

You know what stinks? --A lot of things. One of 'em is being called back to the starship early from semi-unauthorized shore leave to work oddball shifts; we've got two techs in sickbay (tolja to take the free flu shots!), the little drive unit in one of the squirt-booster shuttles has gone wonky and I'm still helping out Andy Ha of PingSun, peace and/or a rain of irritated poison frogs be upon 'em.

But wait, there's more! Worked another graveyard half-shift enabling PingSun's tech in the drive room (and ensuring Andy wouldn't get microwaved by mistake) for my "need you early shift" from our last thrillin' episode. --And I should complain, I don't suppose he'd had more than a couple hour's sleep in the previous 48. Then I came back nine hours later, to set up for a test of some new equipment (better, more precise and possibly less-kludged stardrive/insystem control and interface, which is a good thing) and no sooner had I got the door dogged shut than the phone rang and it was Drive Control, advising me one of the RF power amps that feeds the little insystem/maneuvering ion motors had packed it in.

Oh boy had it! Alarm flags everywhere and shut down to Step One in the start-up. The older units (and this is one) use little ceramic/metal external-anode power tetrodes, vacuum tubes, in a parallel/redundant setup, which means in English that the thing is still running, just not running as well as it should -- and now one glitch away from total failure. Still not a show-stopper, we run 'em in octets, but every little bit counts: it's a long walk home. A few more quick checks and my pager goes off to remind me it's time for the test -- all preset by the Tweed reps; I just have to plug it in when the Bridge prompts me, everyone from me to Drive Control to the bridge crew grabs a set of readings for various minor control inputs and then I set it all back to normal. Goes off without much of a hitch, just a flash of that roller-coaster feeling when I patch it into the drive modulator and a quicker whoooo! when I yank the connections five minutes later.

Back to the RF power amp. I kill a handful of breakers, click-click-click, Screen, High Voltage, Grid, Heater, Control, open up the tuned cavity, poke at the HV points with a grounding hook and use the little puller-widget to yank the tube. It's only a handful, the whole tuned cavity is about the size of three six-packs of beer. Putting the cover back (remembering to remove the ground hook, it does get in the way), I turn the breakers on and hit the Standby (Step 1 in start-up) switch. Heater voltage comes on, five minutes 'til it does anything else... And the phone rings.

It's the Chief. "Roberta? We need to run that test again. How fast can you get it set up?"
"I shut it down, boot-up takes a minute...."
"We need one more iteration. Just one."
"On it," I say as I get over to where the Tweed test widget sits and plug the power back in. And as soon as it reboots, we do the whole thing all over again. Don't ask me -- I just work here.

As soon as that's done, back to the other job, and it quickly develops that the tube and cavity are both questionable. For reasons of efficiency (yeah, right), all the parts for the ion drives are stored in one rather distant hold; octets of the drives are located all along the ten-by-five mile length and breadth of the ship. So I've got to mark it out of service, put a request into the system, smile and make nice. It'll probably be a day before I have the parts. We'll be outward bound by then, establishing a vector and getting to a distance and velocity where the stardrive can be cranked up to full and we can thumb our nose at sensible physics once again. So the odds are I'll be finishing that job in a tearing hurry soon, or under less time pressure once we're subliminal subluminal, inbound to our next stop.

Meantime, the squirt-booster with an iffy drive awaits in its bay. And won't that be fun. There's precious little accommodation made for maintenance access in those things. The theory and practice involved is entirely preposterous, at least until you've seen them run. Maybe even afterward. --But more about that, later.


Home on the Range said...

I would have been transporting myself out of there. . .

Sometimes your job is like Tribbles on Steroids. .

Turk Turon said...


We never go above heptets.

That's some serious s***.

Anonymous said...

Sweet. Me, I try to stay away from the big sparky stuff these days. But once upon a time...

Drang said...

Vacuum tubes?!

Do you get 'em from the ex-Sov' planets? Last I heard, they were the only source, other than Gramma's attic...

GeorgeH said...

So the odds are I'll be finishing that job in a tearing hurry soon, or under less time pressure once we're subliminal inbound to our next stop.

Subliminal? Don't ya mean subluminal, or are you still running an inferential drive?

Roberta X said...

Thank you, George! --So easy to miss these things.

DW, power grid tubes are still being made all over the dear old Earth, and rebuilt, too. Burle Industries, Litton/L3 and Eimac in the US, along with rebuilders Econco and Kennetron; Marconi in the UK, I think Thomson in France still cranks 'em out, as do several outfits in Russia and China. For smaller tubes, there are a good many makers scattered all over the globe -- Russia, China and Eastern Europe have the most.

Extrasolar, Vineways has a tube rebuilder; they do CRTs and power tubes and will tackle most anything.

Novy Lenin most probably can make vacuum tubes of all sorts, they've supposedly got all manner of heavy industry and the smaller ones that support it, if you don't mind it bein' a "worker's paradise" with hot & cold running smog and most mid-1950s tech. Very touchy government; past general outlines, most of what we think we know comes down to guesswork based on hints. :)

Og's bein' modest, rumor has it he retired from starship work (Engineering Chief) prior to his present profession. He will deny this, of course.

Turk Turon said...

Hyper-thetical drive?

Captcha: chonc
(The sound a safety-interlock door should make.)

Anonymous said...

Actually, I was in the entertainment division (can you say, two turntables and a microphone) but I had so many other... skills I was often called upon to do... other things. The station owner used to buy finals at surplus auctions, and we'd often change two or three before finding one that hit.

I will never again, however, climb a tower to change a lightbulb. In an ice storm. No farking way. Plus, I'm too fat to be up a tower anyway.

Tam said...

"(can you say, two turntables and a microphone)"

I sure can: "Where it's at."

Anonymous said...

tam: thanks for catching that an helping me not feel like the biggest dork on earth.