Saturday, January 31, 2009


I have mentioned the nifty removable steel "computer floor" deckplates in most of those parts of the starship Lupine where there's any concentration of things of an especially tech-y nature. Back in Engineering Ops and the Bridge, they are covered with high-grade anti-static carpet squares (says so right on the label) in an assortment of semi-decorative dirt-colored patterns. When .gov's Space Force ran this ship[1] the decks were of course painted (and the Engr'g Shop's deck still is), often with sturdy high-VOC paint that required removing personnel from the areas to be painted, sealing said areas off during and after (and doing the work in space suits), then once it had dried, dumping the air 'til the pressure was way low, repressurizing, and sendin' the boys in Space Force grey back in, coughing like mad from the residual fumes. After privatization, refitting, hazmat abatement, and smaller crews, having carpeting (and no paint fumes) was a supposed perk. And hey, it really is, in one's quarters. In places where the deck rarely gets opened.

In Ops, not so much. The carpet squares are, natcherly, not the same size as the deck plate squares, so you have to take up anywhere from four to six carpet squares to get one plate up. Environment & Physical Plant (janitors, plumbers, botanists, etc.) is now on their third controlled-tack glue formulation, which supposedly allows taking up and putting down the carpet squares multiple times. It almost works -- but forms "gloobers," nasty, fuzzy-bouncy, green globs of sticky gunk that gum up the heads of the screws that hold the plates in place and stick to everything, especially shoes and any clothing that comes into contact with the floor.

But we have a brilliant solution: have the plates cleaned and shot with what amounts to bedliner. There are low-VOC, flame-retardant[2] versions of that stuff now; it should look okay and hold up better than the carpet. No more peeling up carpet squares! Hooray!

What could go wrong? -- E&PP could come in and take up all the carpet squares while we were outbound from Lyndon, then decide the cleaning and coating effort is too big a project for the available time, is what. We now have gloober-coated steel underfoot everywhere; our guys don't like it, the Bridge crew loathe it and the Pilots are about ready to go stage a blanket party on the E&PP honchos.

Nobody liked my suggestion, which is take a couple of hours while we can, dog the hatches and hit the Fire Suppression (air dump) buttons. E&PP will come screamin' in when the alarm goes off but it'll be a fait accompli and the glue will be mostly crunchy dust after we get air pressure back. It is kinda A) drastic and B) seriously against regulations (and has been cited as absolute proof of the widely held belief that if you leave a member of Engineering in a room with the Gordian Knot and a pocket knife, within thirty minutes they will have broken one and lost the other) but hey -- no gloobers.

One problem is, we do kinda have to keep an eye on things, so we'd either have to do Ops and the Bridge one at a time (duplicate controls) and risk not being allowed to do the second one, or stick some volunteers in the area in pressure suits, which is not real fun and also seriously against regulations without prior authorization.

So for now, we're stuck with gloobers. Literally. You can tell who works in our part of the ship by the icky sound of their sticky shoes. Gads, it's a glamorous life shippin' freight to distant stars. Oh, yeah.
1. Yes, you're right, they really should be .mil. They are now. Back in The Day, it was more Peace Corps than USMC in many ways. Except when it wasn't.

2. In the Bridge and Ops, we kinda have to have somebody at the controls and thus can't count on bein' able to do the cheap and easy "fire extinguisher" method, which is to evacuate everybody in the affected area, shut the airseal hatches and dump the air. But any non-critical compartment, that's Method One, 'cos no matter how careful you are, fires and extinguishers gum up the air supply. Dumping the air is a two-fer: puts the fire out and you don't end
up tryin' to scrub the combustion products nearly as much.

Bacon This

Realistic-appearing Bacon Air Freshener at Mod Cloth!

When will the madness end? (Er, like, never, I hope).

Sore Winners

I keep seein' this in politics and I don't like it -- the winning side keeps right on kickin' the losers long after the election (or whatever issue) is over.

Dogs roll in dead things, I thought people had more sense. Wrong again.

...Even a quick 'net wander (at the intersection of "Rahm Emanuel" and "Dick Cheney," who really do have rather a lot in common, personality-wise) turns up the most astounding vitriol. Hey, you guys know who segregated the Federal government? Progressive Democrat Woodrow effing Wilson, that's who. (Opposed in Congress by Republican John J. Rogers, btw). And y'know who called out the troops to desegregate schools? Dwight dammit Eisenhower. What's that do for your neat, inaccurate little worldview of white-hatted heros and black-hatted villians?

(NB: and yes, it is an issue when your guy cranks up the 'stat in the White House to rolled-up-shirtsleeves level and chows down on a super-expensive steak dinner after chiding us proles over keeping our houses at 72 degrees and eating as much as we want. Geez, at least Dick Cheney will say "go (bleep) yourself" directly -- and when that glorious day comes when I can afford to keep my house any more comfortable than 65- 68 in Winter and 75+ in Summer, I'll hold a press conference. It's also of concern that members of the party that claims to be ever so compassionate keeps beating up the defeated, even while hectoring everyone in earshot about the importance of "caring" and "reaching out," not to mention makin' sure that every bum gets some free condoms at my expense. I'm not much of a fan of the Republicans but the Democrats? Tellya what, as far as I am concerned their office-holders and party leadership can all, severally and each, get stuffed, thrice, sideways, with extra carborundum powder. On an hourly basis).

Politicians, worse than body lice; worse than skin fungus. And, worse yet, their blind partisans. Both sides will hate me for it but at any point in my lifetime, there's not been anything in Washington this country wouldn't have been better off without. Leave not a stone upon a stone and sow the ground with salt -- we have more or less adequate State governments, closer to home, a lot less "professional" and much easier to picket, yell at and vote in and out of office.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Holy Cow

...And I'm not talkin' about the slice of salami that graced today's breakfast, either: I feel amazingly better this morning!

My illness must have come on so slowly I failed to realize how bad it had become; I've been struggling awake in the morning, dull, groggy and hurting, then stumbling through each day. Still have a little backache but good heavens, what an improvement.

Maybe I'm not so terribly old after all!

Thursday, January 29, 2009


At VFTP, Tam tells her side of the Roseholme Duo's response to the Great Snowstorm of January, 2009. For my part, I'd gone to bed the night before exhausted, convinced the worst of it was over; the morning's 12" of pristine powder came as a jar.

--But let me backtrack: I had been feelin' variably lousy for well over a week -- thought I wasn't sleeping well, or enough, that sort of thing; thought I was fighting off a touch of the dire-whatevers that had been going around at the Skunk Works. Er, wrong. After some serious physical work last Friday, I felt worse and even slipped away from Sunday's BlogMeet early on account of it -- feverish, drifty, lunch not terribly well-moored. By Tuesday afternoon, I'd finally admitted to myself that a physician's attention was merited. I'd planned to drive up to doc-in-a-box that evening but road conditions were none-too-good and, Pollyanna me, I figured the main roads would be plowed by morning.

So here's the dawn and me greeting it, fever, bitta shaking, achy, sore back; and even a nice hot shower is little help, just makes me steam faster. Tam was out shovelling long before I got out the door; I followed her trail to the garage, saw she had my car unearthed, looked at the height of the drifts and the swell way they flowed so nicely into our alley, looked at my dear ol' Sears, Roebuck & Co. eee-lectric snowblower, steeled my resolve, and trundled the snowblower out to where Tam was laboring. Sent her after the extension cord ('cos she did 99.44% of the lawnmowing last summer and therefore knows where it is -- yes, our mower is electric, too, and we can mow at midnight or dawn without gettin' death threats) and dug out across the alley -- where I noticed our neighbor-plus-one had dug out her drive and the entire alley behind her house. The snow was nice and dry, not a lot of effort to push the snowblower through, "white death" flying away in a beautiful pure plume and I was already in that mental state where the effort could continue until I fell asleep standing up. Between the fever, exertion and cold air, I was about at operating temperature; lots of motion, not much "me" there. So I went ahead and connected our cleared space with hers, about ten minutes' work.

...That had the added benefit of clearing out the alley for our very pleasant next-door neighbor (see Tam's tale of sidewalk-shoveling).

Once that was done, I headed down the alley in the other direction, asking Tam to get the second, longer cord. It still didn't reach far enough to do the entire alley (which we knew, she'd been shoveling and shoveling and shoveling, which was all the more reason to send her looking for an extension cord...) but did about half of what was left. And how 'bout that, our neighbor lent a hand at the far end. Before too long, we'd cleared a path all the way to the street!

I'd had my car warming up and about the time the way was open, I loaded up my stuff (moment of panic for my house keys, found in my lap, moment of near-tears horror when I look off my hat and looked in the mirror at the perspiration-soaked, matted mess that had been neatly ironed bangs and more-or-less brushed hair) and set off. The alleyway, fine; the cross street, semi-fine (plowed, it was, but not to pavement), mushed around the next corner and darned-near got stuck; mushed on out to a major street and things were okay -- slick, 25 mph most of the way and my head spinnin', but okay. Got all the way to the side street leading to Insta-Physician and high-centered my car on the corner; rocked free, waddled the car up to the parking lot, got stuck again making that turn, got free, parked it, and took five minutes or so just getting set, brushing my hair and gulping a sports drink.

Doc confirmed my own guess, wrote a 'scrip and sent me on my way; the office staff suggested the biggo-mart next door to get it filled and I went there on autopilot, picked up some snacks, too, got stuck a few more times, came home, cooked, ate, took drugs, walked back to my room and pitched over onto the bed, out like a candle.

Slept for most of the next fifteen hours. Woke up and left the previous short post, went into to work, hurt like the dickens all day but felt a bit better over time -- and, here I am, posting. I need to go take another pill right now.

And they say there's no excitement in the Circle City!


Content later -- I'm playing catch-up after a day spent either at the doc's, fighting snow or in bed.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Two News Stories

An interesting set of stories: One about Kelo's wake, another about the Sun-King's (Lichtarbeiter?) plans to expand the electric grid so's it can suck up, in a centralized kinda way, all the penny-ante renewable energy sources that don't exist yet.*

Put 'em together, whattaya get? A whole new flavor of Green tyranny! Still tastes of jackboot. Funny, that. But not to laugh.
* Of course if we're talking rooftop and backyard stuff, as long as you are synchronous with the grid, you're more likely to be keeping it from being overloaded rather than creating any need for new high-tension lines.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Sick Again

...But not off work. Either I have very seriously annoyed my back, or something. My money is on "or something," and I'll be off to Immediate Care in the miserable snow early in the morning to find out. If I can get there soon after they open, I'll likely get to work on time.

(Tam says, "That's not miserable snow, that's 'eensy-beensy snowflings.'" You guys have no idea what I put up with.... Tamara, being fey. And after she shoveled the walks. The mind fair boggles).

Update: Something Else. I win, yayy. Pass the Cipro.

'Six-- Three Inches-- 1" of White Death melting now'

Ever notice how any medium-size or up snowfall has turned into Team Coverage of The White Doom even if it fizzles?

A rhetorical question; if you live in a place that gets snow, own a television that gets local channels and have it on in Winter, you've seen it.

Understanding the "thinking" that underpins this behavior is, I believe, instructive:

● Big snowstorms are Big News.
● They have to be covered as they happen; all the resources (distant reporters, extra cameracritters, live-on-the-scene trucks in the hinterlands, etc.) must already be in place so they will be there when needed.
● If you've got 'em, you'd better use 'em, or next time, you might not get 'em.
● Even if the first snowflake that the only snowflake that falls.

As near as I can figure, there's no way the little boy can't cry Wolf, though at least the best of 'em try not to do so too loudly when the "wolf" turns out to be a mouse.

...And "It's there, we've gotta use it no matter what" goes to explain why there's an antigun bias in the media; having sent a reporter to Very Faraway to report on snow, you will see a report, even if it's, "No snow here." So, if they had an AR-15 or a pump shotgun or a six-shooter...?

Sure, you or I would take it to the range or out duck-hunting, whatever. J. Average Reporter, on the other hand, mostly sees guns used to knock over liquor stores and bump off gang rivals -- and he or she knows in his or her bones that any available resource will be used. Small wonder they get all weak-kneed at the notion of plain ordinary folk owning guns.

UPDATE: They got their de-darned snowstorm -- about eight hours late. And now that we have worn out one entire shift of snowplow drivers, it's time to do it for real. Oooo, baby.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Linguistical Patrollage

Or like that.

The word du jour of the day today is "ideal." It's a fine and noble thing to have an ideal, or even more than one -- but not, oh so very especially not, when "It's a good ideal to avoid the growing traffic jam on XXth Street Southbound," comes burbling out of the televisor early in the morning.

No, by the painfully broken heart of dear, sweet Daniel Webster, it is not. It's wise to do so; it is clever. It could even be said to to be "a good idea."

It's a small thing but an important distinction. It did serve one good purpose: convinced me to get out of bed early, so I might locate my second-best umbrella and go forth to apply it to the thick, unresonant skulls of those who abuse perfectly good words. Do you think it would help at all?

Or is my outrage, in the ultimate analysis, merely the outward manifestation of a foolish ideal?

(Still to come: mondegreen. Ooooo).

Sunday, January 25, 2009

"No True Scotsman..."

(It's a logical fallacy, look it up if you didn't already know).

Every so often, I receive e-mail or a submitted comment accusing me of "not being a true anarchist." The most recent is over my delving into the minutiae of government here in the States. Why, how dare I an' still call myself a pure and perfect soul?

Lookee here, palsy, this country is where I keep all my stuff and it's got a gummit, one with the power to mess me all manner of up. It is as safe to ignore 'em as it is to ignore your neighbor's aggressive dog, the one that frequently gets off its chain and jumps the fence. I don't think that dog's got a right to bite me, either -- but there it is.

Next item: no true what? There are rules for bein' an anarchist? There's a governing body? Then I shall swear eternal hostility against this form of tyranny over the mind of man,* 'cos such a thing would be, oh dearie, dear me, a government and one unchosen by the individuals it governs, therefore no anarchy at all. It otta vanish in a puff of flaming contradiction the minute the idea springs forth in the mind (or field-expedient replacement) of a man and, were the universe only faaaaaiiiir, it'd take the thinker with it.

It doesn't. The universe isn't. And "anarchy" remains a "run what you brung" proposition, with nobody dictating rules to anyone else unless they've consented. Government is pretty much the same thing, only with various degrees of mod to the "consent" part. Even then, if you fake playin' along and/or don't make too much noise, you can be middlin' free.

Or you can go whup on those filthy bastids what ain't as anarch as you, just to make 'em start thinkin' right. Yeah, that'd be right clever. Then can we work up to a religious pogrom or a race riot next? Scuse me, I gotta go brush my teeth -- somethin' doesn't taste right.
* Apologies to Mr. Jefferson.

Through The Looking-Glass

I have in the past written of my dislike of the direct election of U. S. Senators. That's not how it was originally set up; Congress comprised The People's House, the House of Representatives and the State's House, the Senate. Therefore, State governments selected their own Senators. The two assemblies were each thus suited to their own sphere.

That all changed with the ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment, which blurs the distinction between the House and Senate, making a Senator little more than a super-Representative with a longer term and more power. A Progressive measure, it was sold on the grounds that without it, a deadlocked or lax State Legislature could (and had) allow a State's Senate seat to go unfilled.

Fast-forward 95 years to find a new kind of seat-filling: The Nation is soiling itself over the notion that Governors can still, boo-hoo, fill midterm Senate vacancies until a special or regular election can be held (and thus ensure, see above, that States do not go without their brace of Senators).

...And it's coincidence (of course) this this outrage comes when one Gubernatorial pick is, due to the Governor doing the picking, an embarrassment to the Left while another, even though she is a Democrat, is deemed the wrong sort: "New Yorkers do not deserve a caretaker Senator who [...] proudly carries the endorsement of the National Rifle Association, an organization that is uniquely responsible for the death and injury by gun violence of hundreds of thousands of Americans," says union activist Jonathan Tasini.* Ah, yes, dat ol' debbil NRA, slandered again -- it's not gang members and criminals that pull the trigger, then? (Maybe he's referring to the huge numbers of criminals stopped in the act by lawfully armed citizens? Sorry. Jon, way too few of them are killed or injured -- mostly they surrender or run away without any shots fired).

I, for one, welcome Kirsten Gillibrand to the U. S. Senate. And, oh, what the heck, Roland Burris, too -- I figure a fellow who builds a monument to himself was born to be a Senator in the style of the great Claghorn himself. Senator Claghorn, that is.

Now, who's up for Vice-President Biden's seat? Ted Kaufmann? ME, MBA, Biden staffer --D00d, you are way not the closing act I expected. Really, a weightlifter guy in purple tights juggling puppies while riding a unicycle with his hair on fire would fit in soooo much better. Ah, well.
* Former president of a writer's union that seems to be a UAW local. Four-door sedan, War And Peace, what's the difference? Weld that verb on anywhere, Chollie, the upholstery hides it!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Explain Me This

Many on the Left (and some on Right, nine cents away) are chortling over the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, yet more meddling between employer and employee on the part of the Great Parents In Washinton. Funny, I'm not hearing them are gripe about this: "Almost all male U.S. citizens, and male aliens living in the U.S.,who are 18 through 25, are required to register with Selective Service." [Emphasis mine]

Why is that? Hey, I'm happy to be a full citizen and all, don't get me wrong; one of the best things about Western Civilization for us on the distaff side is we've got all manner of opportunities our ancestors could never have imagined, many thanks to technology. I can vote and I do vote. --But females are still exempt from the draft and kept away from front-line combat (and I am well aware of the very practical reasons for the latter, save your arguments).

Nevertheless, fair's fair. If we're gonna get paid the same, if we have all the same rights, hadn't we better also shoulder our share of the burden? Childbirth used to be woman's equivalent of warfare -- or even worse, since wars came and went but babies are born every day. Modern medicine has fixed that, even more than it has helped soldiers survive. So maybe it is time for us to step up, if we're gonna be gung-ho for equality in all things.

On the other hand, when I look at how Western Civilization has gone since my sisters got politically active, it frets me. What'd they turn their attention to even before the vote was won? Temperance, that's what, which gave us Prohibition, from which sprang nothing good. I dunno; maybe I shouldn't be voting. And neither should Hillary or Diane.

Happy Birthday To Tam!

It's Tam's birthday! She's 14, I think, or maybe 23. Go wish her a happy!

Friday, January 23, 2009

0900: Planetfall, Linden/Lyndon

Actually, 1000, but I'm chronically slow, especially when I don't want to be. Time to take a break from the dry facts they never told you about, scribbled down while I waited for the good folks at the annoying-tests department of Lupine's clinic to finish up whatever they were doing, lunch most likely.

It's said exciting situations usually aren't while they're happening, that "adventure" is somebody a long ways away in a lot of trouble. Like many such nuggets of wisdom, it's true and it isn't.

I've mentioned Linden/Lyndon/whatever they're calling it this time; it's not my favorite port of call and at that, I'd only ever been down once before today. Just the local TV and Web is bad enough. There are some stunning successes on the Hidden Frontier. I've mentioned the insufferably proud Junior Jayhawks of Kansas II, though without much detail about the agricultural and industrial success that entirely justifies their pride, let alone the buffalions that make some parts of the vast, flat prairie so very interesting. And I wrote a Christmas Story set on proud, slightly goofy Blizzard, a cold place but rich in natural resources and with a keen appreciation of Jay Ward. Linden/Lyndon is success, too. Of a sort. Possibly too much so.

It was the fourth habitable world found and the third settled. The climate's pretty good, the local land life not especially varied or aggressive; "terraforming" has been no big deal, about like settling Ohio. Or Texas: some challenges but the settlers rose to meet them. And had kids. A lot of kids. And indulged in civic involvement most majorly. They had a large and steady influx of settlers through the Sixties and went in for referendum and ballot initiatives and such in a very big way. Local government has been more than a bit...variable. Sometimes there's not much. Sometimes there are a lot, with a lot of rules and fines and forms, fees and taxes and tariffs. If you take shore leave, usually you have to change all the money into whatever they're using at the time -- Linden Reserve Notes, Kennedy Hours, gold certificates (good luck tryin' to redeem 'em) and you can count on not taking your change back -- there's always an "exit tax" or a steeply slanted rate of exchange (plus fees) or some darned thing. The economy runs in fits and starts; we can sell a lot of cargo but sometimes they haven't much to swap for it -- and nobody but nobody takes paper money, checks, drafts or letters of credit from any business or government agency there.

The locals don't seem to be starving and the general ambiance reminds me of California's central valley; but it's not a stable place and they don't get nearly so many settlers these days.

The squirt-booster landing field is run about like any other enterprise on the planet -- one trip it'll be filled with officious officials, next time run by bumbling amateurs, or all but abandoned. We and our sister ships have given up counting on the locals, and set up meteorological and, well, surveillance installations in the buildings near the field. Each ship sets up one, maintains it, makes their own arrangement with the locals; we can all tap into all of them and we'll do emergency repairs on the others if need be. It's clumsy but it works. Mostly -- sometimes the locals steal them.

We first thought that was what had happened this time but the reality was more complex. Our camera and weather station is d-e-a-d. As in off the air. As in we got an ansible call from the KSAS Wildcat* to let us know the building, a primo 15-story apartment tower with shops and parking on the first two floors which connect it to a 10-story office building that had all been under serious renovation on our last stop, and a goin' concern when we installed the stuff, was dark. Gutted. They'd tried to get in but the place was buttoned up tight -- or tight enough to keep an honest man out, they'd seen firelight in a couple of windows -- and they'd been unable to get a hint of the current ownership, if any. Ever since we dropped back into the more-or-less normal universe, we've been tryin' to find the present owners, pay up, maybe get the power back on -- managed the first trick three times, each time the outfit has raised a fuss about back rent, then become evasive when we've asked for documentation. It now appeared the renovation had failed and the building was in receivership -- when what passes for the planetary government had managed to go belly-up again, including the courts. Unh, oops? Things are a little unsettled down at Star City.

The Chief has been hopin' to just get down there and grab our stuff. There's, I don't know, about half a million bucks (as of the last time I spent any) worth of hardware strapped to the top of that building, doing nothing, and he wants it in hand before we move on to the next step. The Chief's boss, the Dir of Eng, Ops and Nav, Dr. Schmidt, he is not so sure and has spent a lot of time with the Purser and her tame lawyers, radioing back and forth to our supposed semi-landlords. Yesterday, at long last, even he gave up.

We've been talking contingencies and making plans for weeks now, ever since Wildcat's message; Handsome Dave did the original install seven years ago with a crew of locals and he'd dug out his photos. --Pretty plush building, back when! But not a nice place for us: there's no rail or parapet on the roof. You step out of an elevator penthouse onto a four-foot ledge, walk ten feet, and turn the corner to the main expanse of the roof. Electronics package is inside a closet at the top of the stairs, easy to get to. Met stick and radio link are on masts fastened to the penthouse wall but the camera, well, that's at the far corner of the roof, on a four-foot pole. Fifteen floors above the blacktop, no rail, no parapet, no nothin'. Stylish.

Good news: there's a lot of blacktop. Remember the squirt-booster pilot who gave me a nice long talking-to about not impugning the capabilities of his faithful steed? Yeah, him; he swears he can set us down right next to the building. Bad news, main access was on the second floor and our pix from orbit show the outside stairs to that entrance are gone.

Nevertheless, we gathered in the Eng. Shop well ahead of 1000 this morning. Handsome Dave showed up last with a rueful expression. "Might be off; I reminded the Chief that Big Tom and Kent can't do any heavy lifting right now and he chewed me out and asked why we even bothered to show up."

General complaint ensued; we'd all dug out our coats, jackets and jumpsuits (early Spring where we're headed) with the ship's logo on them, along with various and sundry other items (hey, a one-hand opening pocket knife is a tool, not a weapon and it's just plain handy to have one in each pocket; and an 80-lumen flashlight is practical. Okay, the pointy bits on the lens end are kinda much but it was on sale...).

"Okay, okay, let's see, C. Jay, Lance, Morris, Bobbi, me, that's enough to get all the gear; Butch stays in the booster with whoever we get from Security--"

"That'd be me," from the door. Mike, head of Ship's Security, think of him as the Sheriff. He's limpin'. "As long as I don't have to run, anyway."

Turns out he slipped in the shower this morning, doesn't think it's all that bad, and Dr. Schmid (Ph.D.), Lupine's 2/O and thus Director of E, O & N wanted somebody with some rank to accompany our little picnic. It's a good sign. Dave heads off in search of the Chief, last seen heading for the Dir (etc)'s office while the rest of us mill around, grab tools and gab about methods of entry. C. Jay shares out some nifty headband lamps and hands me, a bit slyly, a hefty hammer handle sans head. By the time Dave's back, thumbs up, we're ready, and we all troop off to the squirt-booster bay, where a simple double waits, about the size of a city bus. On the way, Dave tells us the Chief's staying aboard: "He wanted to go, his boss won't let 'im." We mull that over and I, at least, wonder if this might be a little riskier than it seems. Is this trip really necessary? It's too late to wonder!

After the usual clank and confusion, we're on our way down, a disorienting experience. True to his boasts, Butch sets us down neatly, the 'drive cutting off a mere 25 feet up and we squish down on the crash balloons right in front of the place. Grey sky, grey day, traffic streams by a half block away but there is not a car in the lot nor a soul to be seen.

While the rest of the crew set up a ladder to the balcony at the old main entrance, Dave and I made a quick sweep around the building looking for an easier point of entry -- him in close and me hanging back, looking around. A big, empty parking deck connects "our" tower to the office tower, which is just as empty. On the outside edge, a spiral stair winds up two floors; the ground level is fenced off but the gate gapes open, a chain and padlock laying in a puddle next to it. The only openings we see have heavy plywood bolted over them, the ends of the bolts pounded over: no access there.

When we complete our circle, C. Jay is already on the balcony, calling down a warning about ice in the shadowed spots; I hand up gear and then follow him up. The door's locked but a big plate-glass window next to it is broken out; Morris has cleared the jagged shards with a wrecking bar and we head in. It's right at the middle of a long side and the elevators are off to our left. Stairs should be right around here, no?

No. Dave shakes his head at our quizzical looks. "Never saw 'em at this level." So we set out past the the former leasing office, and into a kind of maze: storage rooms, doors all ajar, the floor drifted with old magazines, heaps of clothing, Beta tapes (caught on big out here, go figure). It's unlit and the sightlines are poor, with blind corners and tight spaces. It makes my skin crawl and I am not the only one -- headband lights are on and anyone with a hand light has it on , too.

The group splits and reforms, down one hall after another, into an unexpectedly wide corridor with padlocked overhead doors at the far end and more mazelike halls branching off. No stairs. One of the guys, I can't tell who, mutters, "Great set-up for a first-person shooter game," which is true enough except that in here, losing would mean more than having to start over. Something else bothers me and I finally put words to it: "There can't be any stairs hiding here, the walls don't go all the way up!" The storage cubicles have mesh ceilings and their walls stop a good two feet shy of the ceiling. I shine my light around to confirm it: sure enough. No walls other than outside walls, no stairs.

Back out through the maze to what was once the leasing office -- "Look out, that panel's full of nails," and so on, slicing the pie around corners and wishing Linden/Lyndon wasn't quite so Illinois about guns. Dave and C. Jay headed down a level (looking, I guess, for mystery stairs that bypass a floor), Lance and Morris head deeper into the office hoping for a floor plan. It looks like news footage of a war zone -- ceiling tiles and wires hanging tangled overhead, glass all over the bunched and sodden carpet, desks overturned, drawers open -- but about as the downstairs guys give up and head back, I hear "Aha!" and Lance comes out to the lobby holding a roll of drawings. Five minutes later, we're all certain there is no blamed access from the office/storage levels to the apartment floors above. I'm pretty sure the fire codes back in the States and Europe wouldn't allow it, but here, it's another matter. The fire stairs are on the ends of the building and they don't stop at this floor!

Back down we all go, across the parking lot and up the spiral stairs to the topmost parking deck; we trudge up them, cross a bit of concrete and up one flight to -- a door with a sheet of plywood screwed across it. Dave's already working at it with a screwdriver when I arrive but a wrecking bar makes short work of popping three sides free. The door thus revealed, nice shiny glass, is not deadbolted but the crashbar's latched. Another job for the wrecking bar, a very gentle pry, and it pops open.

Revealed, concrete stairs, one flight down and 23 up. The fire door to the first floor we pass (4) is open and it looks like people had been moved out in a hurry. At the next landing up, there's a shopping cart on its side and the fire door is closed, trash neatly bagged beside it. The guys had been yakking but now we trade looks and get less noisy; there's another shopping cart on the next landing up and as we pass it, the radio Morris is carrying squawks, "Everything all right?"

He turns it down and replies but I think I hear scrambling sounds above; we press on. All the way up, there are some signs of recent habitation. On most floors, the fire doors are open on hallways just as cluttered and abandoned-looking as the first. It's the few that are shut-but-not-latched that worry me. At the top floor, we march to the center of the building, where the open doors of a very empty elevator shaft gape, the counterweight hanging at the back. Just beyond that opening, a narrow stairway winds up into darkness. "We can go that way," Dave says, "Or over here--," as he walks into an apartment across the hall. The main room is huge, lit by a floor-to-ceiling window but I start to ask if sightseeing is a good idea, stopping when he heads up a stairway: it's a two-story apartment!

The room at the top of the stairs defies expectation. It's got floor-to-ceiling windows on each side, one looking towards downtown and the other out to the suburbs but what dominates the room is huge bathtub, at least ten feet square and two feet deep, tucked into a corner. Along one wall, at the far end from the taps, there's a little marble-shelved passthrough about two feet square; I walk around the corner and up a step: the passthrough opens into a small WC/vanity, with a medicine cabinet set and hinged so anyone reaching though the passthrough could reach in. Dave laughs, "Helluva place to keep the soap, hunh?"

Just past the bath is a door into the same dark staircase we'd seen below, winding on up to the roof. C. Jay takes the lead and when the door at the top proves to be stuck, braces himself and kicks it open gently. Just as the pictures showed, it's a narrow walkway and a long way down. There's no place to tie a rope or clip a cable, just a couple of antenna poles in some flimsy-looking brackets I wouldn't trust.

Dave, Lance and I file out onto the roof and around the corner. Dave's got the collapsible ladder, and we lend a hand extending it, locking the sections and standing it up so he can get the weather instruments and antennas from the elevator penthouse roof. C. Jay and Morris will tackle the electronics package inside, Lance and I head towards the camera -- at some point, I managed to volunteer for it. It's not that bad unless you really dislike heights but there are puddles on the roof and a brisk, gusty breeze. I huddle down, duckwalking as I get closer to the edge: it's a lot harder to do a trip and fall when you're starting low! Right on the corner, there's our "non-penetrating mount," a steel frame about four feet square with a pole in the center topped by a medium-sized camera on a remote-controlled pan and tilt head. The base should be full of concrete blocks but they're all missing. I restrain myself from going to the edge and looking over to see if they're below, squatting down instead on the edge of the mount's frame and looking at what holds the pan & tilt to the pole: a "coffee can" a heavy steel can with six fat setscrews, all a bit rusty but worth a try. Down below, sirens scream by and wail to a stop, out of view, and I hear Dave on his radio: "Any company on the ground?"

"Nope. Little action on the highway but it's not us."

I don't have the right size wrench but I've got an adjustable. Lance is hacking away at the cables -- "It doesn't have to be neat, hey? Oh, dammit," as the wrench slips, but the setscrew had turned. I back it out, five to go, get the next one and realize I'd better do the two closest to the corner of the roof next, which I proceed to do, mostly by feel. Fifteen floors didn't sound like much but even looking out instead of down, it's not a small distance. Okay, next two, the "coffee can" wobbles free and I get my arms around the camera housing and lift. Swelp me, if this thing is too heavy, I'm droppin' it, I'd rather be yelled at by the Chief than splatted here-- It comes clear and Lance leans in to take some of the weight; we walk it back towards the elevator penthouse to hear, "Heads up!" and a small high-gain antenna hits the roof in front of us.

Back at the stairs, C. Jay and Morris have the electronics package out and are bumping it down to the elevator level; Lance and I strap the camera to a length of strut and head after them like Great Cyber Hunters. Once we're down, they head back up and return shortly with Handsome Dave and a pile of assorted Met. and RF goodies. As we're sorting and packing for the trip back down, I see C. Jay dart a glance down the hall to the stairs, then he trades a look with Morris as I hear a faint clanking and muffled voices. "Anyone else hear that?" Jay asks, as we all fall silent. Yes, it's faint but something's coming.

"There's another set of stairs at the far end," Lance says, and we pick up our burdens and head that way. I grab the collapsible ladder -- it's got a shoulder strap -- and one end of the strut holding the camera; Jay and Morris have the bulky electronics housing and Dave's got a fully-loaded knapsack. We get to the far end in record time and sure enough, more stairs, the first flight well-clogged with discarded clothing; but down we go. At the first landing, I have to swap shoulders, the ladder's tangling with the camera, but I do it on the fly and down we go. Most of the fire doors on this side are closed.

It's an endless descent, round and round, stairs down half a floor and then a landing, followed by more stairs, over and over. My right knee starts to burn and the burn becomes a fiery ache; we start to fall behind. Lance says to Dave, "She's startin' to slow up."

I pant back, "You wanna carry the ladder awhile?"

"You've got the ladder, too?"

"Didn't. Wanna. Leavitt."

Dave tells me, "Set it down on this landing, I'll grab it." I'm happy to comply.

Five more floors, we climb down, down, past a covered door, hey! One floor too many! But we've about caught up with the first pair and this is the route they're taking, so we follow. There have been water leaks down here, potable water I hope; it doesn't smell especially bad. The floor is slick with drifts of pulped ceiling tiles on ragged, mildewed carpet and we have to cross full length of the building. About halfway, I hear both radios: "Company out here, couple unmarked SUVs just pulled in." Grrrreat.

We get to the end, trudge up one flight to the door, out, down and Morris puts out a hand. "They're at the base of the spiral steps. Sittin' talking."

Dave has come down by then and says, "Let's just wait. I could use a breather anyway." Me, too, but darned if I'll admit it.

After about ten minutes, the radio again, Mike from the squirt-booster, "They haven't given us or the the building any attention. I think it's just a hook-up. You might as well head out."

So, off we go, and sure enough, the occupants of the two SUVs (Ladas, f'pity's sake) don't even glance our way. If they're game, we're game, so we ignore them as studiously, get across the lot to the booster as Mike pops the hatch, load up, strap it all down, strap in and the pilot gives us and our cargo the once-over. "All ready? Bunch of pirates!"

We grin back like schoolkids, he punches the Go button and we bid sweet, lovely Lyndon (Mike says they're back to that, now) a less-than-fond farewell. I don't know who or what was headed up the stairs as we headed down and I'm just as happy not to.

All the gear we've grabbed has to be refurbished before it can be reinstalled anywhere -- but not back to that building, not if they'll listen to my advice or that of any of us who went after it. All in all, not a bad day's work and we were back aboard by 1400. Naturally, the Chief groused about lost time and had plenty else for us to do the rest of the watch.
* Yep. Kansas II has a merchant fleet -- okay, one ship, and they bought it used. Still, even I have to admit, not too shabby.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

0900? Plus, More History

I've written "0900" on my hand again. It's possible it will actually come to something this time and if it does, maybe I'll tell you about it.

Most recently, I've been trying to explain about starships and it's been slow going. Several things came together at once: the realization that the field-emission array could be stacked and would work like a gain antenna: effectively trading field shape for power. The navigation/piloting problem, though -- that wasn't so easily dealt with. There's no way to "pilot" a 'drive vehicle in the sense of looking out the window (or even reading instruments) and directly manipulating controls, especially at those times when one needs it most: landing or moving about close to the ground. Worse yet, since how one modulates the 'drive field can control the vehicle's orientation (and vector, if any!) when the field is shut down, pilot disorientation issues are severe. (The inherent navigational uncertainly also made the 'drive a lousy weapon: you can't aim worth a darn)

The solution? Easy! But not neat: you can leave the Earth; you just can't get back. And with nuclear Armageddon looking more and more likely, a minority of the research team were ready to try just that.

But -- would you look at the time? Plenty of prep to get done before 0900, so I'll have to take this up later.

Current Events

...I am not ignoring Washington, just letting the New Guy settle in and get his foot well-positioned in his mouth. Snarking now is like shootin' fish in a barrel.

Bear in mind that though we regard it as routine, an orderly transfer of Executive authority and responsibility is very much the exception in many parts of the world, perhaps most. The electorate was rather sharply divided and very nearly evenly; yet here in the States, we didn't even have riots. Either we're amazingly apathetic or the system kinda works -- or both.

Adventures In History, II

[Where was I? Oh, right, sitting in the waiting room of the Lupine's clinic, run, as near as I can tell, by Molasses-in-January Medical, scribbling down notes about the prehistory of the Hidden Frontier. That's the problem with blogging after the fact -- you lose sync].

As the Sgt. Snodgrass Incident made clear, there were serious navigation and piloting issues, especially near any other mass. Jumps certain (or nearly so) to arrive in open space or atmosphere were safe enough; but close-in, there were often anomalies and even when there weren't, the problem of getting a short enough Drive pulse, on the proper vector, was nearly insurmountable. Very early inertial navigation equipment was an obvious answer, but still too crude. The precise control needed for close-in maneuvering and landing remained elusive. Human reactions couldn't do the job.

For longer "flights," the obvious answer was to work out every step well in advance and automate the process. IBM' s SSEC went online in '48 and by 1950, was producing "jump presets" on the same heavy-duty punched tape used in SSEC's Table Lookup Unit; sadly enough for Snodgrass, the accuracy of the system was not all that great.

In June, 1950, it suddenly became clear to Outer Hebrides Agronomy Project management that time was running out; as Korea burst into war, something had to be done and if not an atom-bomb base on the Moon, then what? At news conference that November, President Truman mentioned using atomic weapons in the conflict, at which point even OHAP's DoD bosses began to feel the urgency for faster results.

Meanwhile, the flight-testing program had attracted unwanted attention -- reports of the vehicles jinking around madly, colored lights in the sky and so on had started something of a fad and not even major disinformation efforts by various three-letter agencies and Service branches were keeping it entirely contained. A heavy schedule of flights -- for instance, what would be required to build and supply a Lunar base -- was risky; control and navigation issues on landing made it essentially impossible. And power plant problems appeared to seal the deal; the massive energy demands of the Drive could not be sustained by battery banks. From great pressure, however, arises great results (or massive failure).

The solutions to most of these well-nigh insurmountable opportunities was just around the corner. In early '51, Sperry-Rand's Univac 1, smaller and lighter than IBM's SSEC, hit the market, followed in a year by IBM's own 701. In December, '51, the small atomic powerplant at Arco, Idaho came on-line, with Pentagon rumors of a battleship-ready reactor to follow. As these pieces came together, first on paper and then as working models, it appeared the vehicle would do everything "flying saucers" supposedly could -- except land. Or navigate accurately near a large mass, which comes to the same thing but has other implications, too. As you will learn.

[to be continued]

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Adventures In History

So, having made it through a less than optimal re-emergence into rational — or at least normal — space, found and fixed a nasty problem with the stardrive remote controls, run only somewhat afoul of the Chief (who is back and seems be in a slightly improved mood: bless and keep the ship's dentist, who has improved all our lives), it's all just totally marvy as we muddle our merry way inbound to Lyndon/Linden, whichever they'll be callin' it this time (unless they've changed it to something completely different and are fighting over it. Again).

All just totally marvy for everyone but me, anyway. We get days off. No, we don't shut the ship down for the weekend ("Everybody hold your breath, now!") but you get a couple days from every seven and generally as a set. The Chief works a more-random schedule, the better to keep us on our toes; as it happened, he and I had both been off for the previous couple of days.

So this morning the Chief emerges from his lair holding a hardcopy as several of us hardworkin' techhies are in the midst of a discussion of Zedd-speak, in which no one is ever singled out but somehow, miraculously, "somebody" always undoes Jonny Zedd's Great Works, as in: "Somebody came along after me, took the labels off all them wires, and tangled them all up!"

"As long as you're enjoying that, here's some more fun for you," he said. "You're off to blow into a tube!"

The printout covered e-mail between him and, yes, even here they call it HR. Three days ago, I had 48 hours to report to the ship's main clinic for a random alcohol screening. Too bad they only told my boss. While he was at the dentist. The day before his (and my) two days off. Complain I might but the hardcopy makes clear that he took the fall for this one and I'm in the clear — as long as I head to the clinic right now.

C. Jay grins at me. "Don't feel too picked-on, last week they tapped the Captain for the same thing."

I smile back, "The diffo bein', he takes dinner an' lunch with high-rollers, while my people are all Temperance!" (Not entirely true, mostly they're just Methodists; but it comes to much the same thing: if I have four drinks a year, I'm havin' a wild, wild time). Still, I recall this morning's vending-machine chocolate-chip cookies, made fresh on board, and I am hoping they didn't get too heavy with the vanilla. That alcohol all bakes out, doesn't it?

So here I am, sittin' in a mildly grubby waiting room with a couple other folks, crew or subcontractor employees, filling out of-all-things paperwork. Actual paper, with an actual pen, which they will take, keyboard in, and chuck down a recycle chute to return, eventually, as a new form. Or perhaps washroom tissue, which is much the same thing. At least the thumbprint reader has a USB cable and not an inkpad. Though - thumbprint? That's new. Do they think I might send my imaginary twin? Oh, well.

Sitting. Waiting. And wondering how we got here. I'll bet you do, too. So why not jot down a little history?

It must have all seemed simple enough at the time. Having developed what was rapidly apparent as the capability to destroy all human life, some Manhattan Project scientist and engineers formed the Atomic Scientists of Chicago and started warning everyone about the terrible dangers. A few -– a darned few – were already in the process of dealin’ the Soviets into the game. The Franck Report circulated, ideas were bandied about, and not much was actually done.

But eventually, some of them did something else. It all started – as I have previously mentioned -- with a chance remark by Richard Feynman to a group of free-range intellects at Alamogordo, a group that included a couple of theoretical physicists and a mathematician you never heard of. In fact, now you can hardly find them in the declassified material, let alone any of the history books, and with good reason. (As far as I can tell, Dr. Feynman never knew about the stardrive, his role in inspiring it, or the off-planet settlements; at least officially. Unofficially, who can say? There was very little escaped him).

It started out as a joke, really, a cute conceit that couldn’t possibly have been true; but enough of an idea that a young physicist from that bunch chasing a PhD would sit down with the mathematician, look into it and see farther than he expected.

In early 1946, the first thing that happened after he tried to publish was it all got classified (as the “Outer Hebrides Agronomy Project,” no less) followed by Uncle Sam throwing money at it with an eye to weapons applications. There are some, but they’re not especially practical outside space opera. Still, it’s a living; ask anyone in the biz.

In the larger world, time ticked on; in June of ’47, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists first featured the Doomsday Clock, hands set seven minutes away from a final midnight. And nearly a month later, a very small and colorful bubble of indescribability popped from a lab to a mountainside in no time at all, or at least faster than the photon flies, and blew a hole bigger than a city block. Also every fuse and breaker in the lab, just like in the movies; except instead of hopping up and down shouting “Eureka,” our heroes, such as they were, gave each other sheepish looks and wondered how onerous the paperwork was going to be. It wasn’t until a month later that they started to see that something other than a big mess had occurred.

Precise aim over short distances proved a problem, nor was the War Department (look it up) especially interested in using a couple of rooms full of fussy electronics to do what one plane-load of conventional bombs or modern field artillery could do better, nearly as quickly, and at far lower cost. When it developed that “up” was an easy direction and it was possible to enclose and move material objects, you didn’t need to be Kenneth Arnold to see the possibilities.

And meanwhile, Atomic Doom was in the news. In September 1949, the Soviet Union showed they could take a hint – or borrow blueprints – and surprised everyone except a few spies with their first bomb test. By now, you’re thinking some far-sighted visionary would have seen the possibilities and set out to settle the stars!

You’re right and you’re wrong. Another thing had happened in ’49: American Legion Magazine published a science fiction story by a writer named Robert A. Heinlein. You may have heard of it; it’s called "The Long Watch." One thing it features is an atom-bomb missile base on the Moon. By ’49, the War Department had been subsumed into the badly-named National Military Establishment (“NME” – I told you to look it up!), which changed monikers to become the Department of Defense. By any name, they weren’t especially interested in science-fiction yarns – but flyable hardware was another story. The director of OHAP read the story and read his superiors as well. He spun them a yarn about "seizing the high ground" without any explosive German rocket scientists or their even more-explosive toys and by that year’s end, isolated parts of Nevada were witness to some of the oddest hardware ever flown. If “flown” is the proper word for welded-together bits of Navy vessels, remote-controlled, loaded with Diesel generators and shock-mounted electronics, hopping on giant shock absorbers, flickering from here to a not-too-distant there in a twinkle of colorful light and surprisingly little sound. It had quickly become clear that the enclosed volume of a stardrive field did not smoothly scale up as power input was increased: there were distinct steps. Stages. Wastebasket-sized, car-sized, city-block size and perhaps even larger, but nothing in between. Clear, too, was that the larger the field, the farther the jump in a given time. It also became clear than no matter what the specs said, if you dropped a klystron from very far up, it made a mess – and gensets didn’t fare much better. Still, when it worked, it was quite a sight, research vehicles lurching along like a plate skipped over a lake.

The astute reader will have noticed I’m not naming names or mentioning map co-ordinates. You can bet the few clues I have dropped are red herrings, too. I can tell you a little about the pre-history of the Hidden Frontier, put together from what they tell us and a bit of rumor and guesswork, but not all that much. Just as well; I’d as soon not give the kids at NRO, NSA and their more-hidden sister agencies too much extra work.

Research continued, progressing to smooth shapes that fit the developed drive field, oblate spheroids; control got better, too, though anywhere but up still posed problems, problems that went “boom!” Nevertheless, it was inevitable that one of the researchers would go for a joyride. In the late Spring of 1950, an Army noncom named Snodgrass was the first man in space. We know because he radioed news of his success. Unfortunately, it doesn’t count, as he failed to meet FAI requirements when he muffed his return: one hop too far on the way down. I hear the crater can still be found if you know where to look.

[to be continued]

Sick Day

As in An Actual Bug; I'm not bein' po-litical here. But some content will follow eventually, fueled by my chills and fever. (Oh, so that's what a stately pleasure dome looks like! It's all so very clear to me now...).

Did the Anointing come off on schedule?

Monday, January 19, 2009

I Dream, Too

...In my dream, the FedGov stops makin' up holidays and works on makin' itself smaller and less invasive and if The People want to commemorate someone famous, they do so by doin' something productive, not by stayin' home -- and not by going into work and spending the entire day seething in resentment at The Unfairness Of It All.

I was going to make some snarky remarks but beseems me that would be inappropriate.

Me, I am plannin' on spending this day judging everyone I meet based on the content of their character; I won't even take their politics into account. It won't be pretty.

Bein' as Lefty as the late Dr. King is easy, especially just now. For that matter, his personal faults and failings were not unusual. But have you got the guts, as he did, to stand up for what you believe in the face of imminent danger? Will you put in the effort, take the time, walk the walk? Or will you, Left, Right or Libertarian, just mouth slogans worn smooth of meaning and return to your well-worn rut?

On the morrow, another Presidential inauguration occurs, regular as clockwork. The incoming administration promises -- threatens -- deep and sweeping changes. I think some of those changes, perhaps many of them, are not to the good. And I will oppose them, not because of the race, the socioeconomic class or the Party of the men who propose them but because of the content -- the character! -- of those changes.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

January Blogmeet

...My eyes! My eyes! And the worst part? The worst part is, I own a nice zip-up hoodie with pretty much the same green/pink color scheme. Wore it today, in fact. Over a black/white/grey/purple camo T-shirt. Hehehehe. Winter blahs? Gotta fix 'em!

Saturday, January 17, 2009


Went to the range this morning, sending a century of .22s downrange, along with maybe fifty rounds from the Star 9mm...and another fifty from my Colt 1911A1 in .38SA with brand new Trijicon sights! They make a difference. A huge difference.Remember the photo I showed some months back, of the dinky, polished-over sights on the ol' 38 Super? No more! (Come to think of it, the sights on the Star I compared it to went bye-bye, too, that being the one the front sight came off of at the range).The first mag was pretty funny; I was just noodlin', gettin' a feel for how it wanted to line up and reminding myself that this thing jumps and flashes a bit, and Tam came up beside me and hissed, "You know the POI at 20' is right behind the insert on the front blade, right?" Yeah, I kinda do and yeah, I was shootin' low; but I had not shot that gun for two months and that was with the old sights. (Update: some of the humor-impaired have missed the subtext, in which Tam is half-teasing, half reminding. The original sights would have been regulated for a six o'clock hold; unaware of that -- there's a firearms historian at Roseholme but I am not her! -- I had picked up some bad habits trying to make the old .38SA go where it was pointed with the old sights).

A pretty good day at the range, though the place was crowded, plenty of cars there before it opened. (Tam and Shootin' Buddy, impatient, just had to get out and stand in line at ten minutes 'til -- hey, 30 is toasty darn warm compared to ten below but it's still kinda cold for some of us!)

Unfortunately, one aspect of a crowded range never changes, ever: there's always some ghit bein' careless. I've seen much worse than I saw this morning and I never saw more than one of the Four Rules violated at any one time -- but I am totally gonna design and print a T-shirt covering the Four Rules and start wearing it to the range. At least I'll be able to tell the merely ignorant from the stupid and/or illiterate!

PS: I finished my AR15 kit last night. Oh, I'm eeeeevil now! Bwa-ha-ha!

PPS: Sorry about the blurry snaps -- handheld, inexpensive camera, tryin' to not have the sights too out of line.

Friday, January 16, 2009


You think my starship stories are far out? They are as nothing compared to what people sell to audiophiles. Who buy it happily.

Is it true? Could it be? You, the discerning reader, must make that decision for yourself. I have go hold my breath until I stop chortling.

Heartfelt thanks to this guy.


I'm going to have to stop impugning the more-or-less good name and alacrity of Stores & Cargo: the only slightly scuffed and dusty box containing Power Supply, Replacement, for Remote Control 2-RMC (Henry M. Assoc), qty 1 showed up well ahead of my arrival at Engineering.

...I opened it, unwrapped the supply and snickered. The old one was the shape and mass of a house brick (a house brick with a bulging and leaking electrolytic capacitor), on a subassembly housing bent up from thick sheet metal. New one, same subassembly...with a switching supply about the size and heft of a deck of playing cards all lonesome in the center of it. And several closely-printed pages folded and wedged in, what's this?

Modification Procedure For 2-RMC Replacement Power Supply

Oh, nice -- pull this card, flip that component around, swap this one out, install supply, recalibration procedure.... "Drop-in" fixes never are. Or hardly ever.

From the Chief's office, a creak and then he was at the hatch, "X? Need you for a meeting this afternoon, upgrades on the bridge." I'd spent too long standing still; the Chief is entirely certain that idle hands are the Devil's workshop, or at least an offense against the smooth running of his domain.

"Love to, Boss. Can't," I grinned, holding up the supply and fanned out instructions."

"Can. Who've we got -- ah! Your colleague David is still on sensors and such, you okay with him on this?"

There's not much stumps Handsome Dave -- if he can't do it, he'll find out or figure it out. "Sure!"

"Okay -- call him up, get him up to speed with this, and have him pick it next time he swings by the shop."


The Chief favored me with a steely look and contrived to loom. I don't know how he manages it -- he's not quite my height and twice my mass -- but he does. "Does this take two techs? Thought not. Is Dave already out? He is. I'll be at the dentist this afternoon and there's no reskedding this meeting. So you're It and Dave's headed for the drive room."

The starship's not military -- what I read of commercial seagoing vessels, we're not even that disciplined -- but nevertheless, sometimes there's only one good reply, especially to a man showing signs of overmastering a toothache: "Yessir! Thank you, sir."

Handed the project off to Dave, found plenty of work around the shop, made the meeting on time and only nodded off once and that only barely (I'm not really good at meetings). And about the end of the watch, Dave rings up: "Are you ready for me to fire this thing up?"

"Let me get to Drive Control first."

Little back and forth chatter, squeezed in past The Fury (not his real name) at DQ and Dave flipped the switch.

"We might have to recal everything," I reminded him. "Okay, I'm gettin' numbers -- hey! Looks about right!"

We spot-checked the most critical readings and it was runnin' just like nothing had happened. We're back in the remote-control biz. Whew!


Big gun auction at Christy's of Indiana. Tam doesn't know about this but she's online and right here in the room; countdown to Squeee in

Thursday, January 15, 2009


Good idea: paying attention.

Bad idea: paying for attention.


It is approximately as cold as a well-digger's hinder parts in January here in Indy -- and that's cold, since, you see, the temperature at the bottom of a well is pretty much the same year-round and old-fashioned wells took a degree of maintenance, so the well-digger was warm enough on the job, but when he climbed back up on a cold Winter's day, usually soaked the the waist, he was gonna be a lot colder than everyone else.

Where was I? Oh, yes, it's so cold now that if you spit out a second story window, it's turned into a an iceball on the way down and shatters when it hits -- and it's got to be awfully cold to tempt me to spit in public.

Naturally, I have been using those chemical handwarmers (and if you don't, you should: they're wonderful!). You pop a couple of 'em out of their air-tight packages, stuff 'em in the pockets of your second-layer garment, layer on over that and your core stays toasty warm. It's a huge help!

But how do they work? I fell to wondering what the end-product(s) of the exothermic reaction might be. Can you have a bunch of them warming your car? Could my friends who work on the big starships of the Hidden Frontier stuff 'em in their pressure suits when working in the colder holds? Yes, as happens, they could.[1] Chemical handwarmers work by rusting! More or less.

Ha ha, you say, that's a joke from High School Chemistry, all oxidation is "rusting." Nope, it ain't and yes, this is. Okay, they sneak in a catalyst to make it go faster and some other odds and ends to keep it from going too fast,[2] but the stuff that's doing the work is iron becoming iron oxide. Which is pretty nifty. Also nifty: you can stop and start the reaction. All it takes is a decent zip-lock bag: stick the handwarmer in it, squeeze out as much of the air as you can and zip it shut. Once the remaining oxygen is used up, it cools down and is ready for the next use. Since some versions will warm for ten hours, it's useful to be able to save that warmth for later. Funny, they don't so much mention that in the directions on the label.

These things are a must for a "just-in-case kit" for your car, or for a Winter bug-out bag. Made of win!
1. However, a version of the mechanical counter-pressure suit is the most common pressure suit, at least in Anglophone space, so there would be some details to work out to get oxygen to the warmers. I should ask -- the actual fix may be as simple as electrically-heated motorcycle oversuits, bought right off the rack. Plus, most parts of the starship, the problem's too much heat, not a lack of it.

2. The Data Viking is snickering as he reads this, remembering that I got through Chem class on glibness and last-minute memorization, whereas he showed a remarkable aptitude for the subject.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

I Have A Life?

...Outside Starship Tech-ery?

Late yesterday the Stardrive was down to a low enough level we could get someone in the Drive Room. I was fiddling with some of the display systems on the bridge when the call came in: Handsome Dave had been making a sweep of field-strength sensors, changing out the bad ones -- we lose a few every transluminal leap -- and it happened he'd worked his way back aft when DQ confirmed the 'Drive was down to "idling" levels.

It took several tries but with me at the controlling end and him at the controlled end, we managed to kill the remote system dead. (Yes, this is a good thing: intermittent flakiness is difficult to find and fix; a hard failure usually points to itself). Power supply, what else, and no spares out there; I've got a request into Stores & Cargo, but by the time he and I were done, it was well into the second watch and with all due respect, S&C keeps their bright lights on First. I'll have to follow up today and hope for the part by the day after. There's no hurrying them -- push too hard and they will get surly.

I know, I know, "Starfleet" is always happy, organized and on the bounce on the TeeVee; see, this is that messier thing, Real Life, where problems don't get solved in 45 minutes, just in time for the credits to scroll by. I could give S&C a big song and dance about how it's horrible dangerous and zomg we're all gonna die if they don't get a move on but there's a limited number of times you can get away with that; see "they will get surly," above. Just as soon save it for when it's true, which, heavens permit, should be never.

There's a little good news, IT reports the ansible we installed some weeks back is workin' fine; it only links up when we're outside rational space. IT's equipment spends the entire hop on the Internet, grabbin' whatever's new and sending back e-mail and so on from our previous planetary stop. There was some concern time before last but it was something semi-arcane in their servers, which they have found and fixed. So that's one thing we don't have to worry over. E-mail to the Hidden Frontier is slow and there's nothing like the level of access you enjoy; but it does get through. --Also, now some of the vagaries of what's left of Usenet might be making more sense to you.

Connectivity is one of the things the Lupine and her sister ships trade in, a "cargo" without mass. But it keeps my paycheck (such as it is, once the Starship Company's deducted charges for insurance, housing, food and good fresh-ish air) from bouncing!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

I Had Hoped

Wanted to post something timely and witty about politics; certainly the number of NICS checks for previous two months shows a sharp uptick, a million-five plus, after taking nine years to slowly build from 800k a month to 1.2 million a month. Funny, that. One wonders what-ever could be the cause... Only not. I do hope the GOP is paying attention.

Alas, last night found me wrestling with recalcitrant starship control systems; beseems a significant number of recent glitches were the product of control funkiness rather than actual hits and recycles on the stardrives. While it restores my faith in the B3V (British Basic Ballistic Valves; they made their name in the UK version of the radio proximity fuse: tiny radars strapped to artillery shell and shot from guns) phantasmajectors and the big Tweed rigs they run in, I'd as soon not have problems with the remotes. Back in The Day, Space Force crews ran the drives by "extended controls" from a heavily-shielded room a few thousand feet away from the Drive Room, a bit closer than anyone should be but -- by the standards of the time -- very nearly safe. As long as you didn't open the door. That's right, a "Drive crew" of a half-dozen men lived out every jump in a space about the size of a double-wide house trailer, locked in by the energies of the stardrives. The room is still there; the controls are still there.

I am so not gonna do that. The Chief is a cautious sort; while the remote to Drive Control is a duplicated, divergent system (meaning two very different setups that will accomplish the same task), if either one is down, he's likely to hand-pick a collection of his least-favorite techhies and operators to spend a month or so locked away next to the 'Drives if the controls are not a hundred percent up to par before our next hop. I'd as soon avoid that; the boys that get stuck out there will tend to blame me. Unfair it might be (anyway, it seems so if you're me!) but them's the breaks. So, off I go! Wish me luck.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Starship Update

The latest "I work on a starship" story is all posted. Editing for errors may continue later.

"Who's Flyin' This Thing?"

Dropping out of transluminal travel is a nerve-wracking affair. I suppose it shouldn't be; we've done it often enough and the mathematics that purport to describe the process are smooth and elegant. At least that's what the Navs boffins tell me.

In practice it can be a bit...bumpy. They're pretty sure crossing the barrier is what did in the first experimental starships lost once they'd got the mass/power/field volume relations worked out. It doesn't have to be bumpy and that's a good thing -- a starship big enough for an economic cargo-to-power ratio is very large indeed, the ten-by-five miles by a thousand feet of my own dear Lupine being an average example, at which point "bumpy" is something more than a reason to keep the good china in a padded box.

Skill is what makes the difference between large pieces coming off and a transition so smooth the passengers never notice and Stores & Cargo barely do. To do the job properly takes at least an hour and up to three on our longest hop. It's no time at all compared to the weeks and months spent doing what amounts to outracing light[1] but a very long time if you're riding it through. Star pilots who can get the job done are star pilots indeed, combining a superlative grasp of seven-space behavior with excellent reflexes and the "people skills" it takes to coordinates a command deck crew and my boys in Drive Control and RF/Reaction Power (watched over by DQ outside transition times), especially under the critical eye of the captain or any of his XOs. Power room's fully staffed for this as well, mostly a holdover from the days of having a bank of Navy-type fusion reactors, our pair of triply-redundant fusion/MHD powerplants being both dependable under acceleration and not especially amenable to wrench-turning fixes on the fly.

Suffice to say good star pilots are rare. Genuinely outstanding ones are jewels indeed and all manner of personalities and types are made welcome if they've got the chops.

Such is the case of Sunny Grimm, chief pilot (but so very not boss lady -- nobody herds those cats) on the Lupine. A kind of life-sized, brunette version of Walt Disney's Tinkerbell, away from the bridge she talks like a double-speed playback when she says anything at all, usually the kind of delayed-reaction insights that detonate in the hearer's mind after the conversation's moved on, to her great delight. Barely 30, she's the youngest pilot in the entire commercial fleet (or at least the English-speaking side, the Russians and French still play it cagey about details). Originally trained by dear old Uncle Sam for the tiny military fleet left after privatization, her overwhelming aptitude for the job bid them ignore an essential unfitness for Service least for a few years. When the Starship Company "found" her (Uncle Sam: "Hire this one, now. Um, please." SC: "Oh, yeah!"), she'd been let loose on the most prosperous planet of the Hidden Frontier (Kansas II -- aka Dullsville -- and don't the Junior Jayhawks just love to tell you all about the place) . And yeah, while female star pilots aren't unknown, there's a little heroine-worship on my part. Hey, the menfolk in Engineering are even worse!

The Starship Company did not so very much mind her breezily bohemian style and sensibility nor blank inability to comprehend what needed to be saluted when, so long as she could glide their wallowing vessels in and out of rational space without smashing the cargo; it was pure gravy if she could, at least on occasion, do so without making so much as a wineglass jiggle.

In the pilot's throne, front and center of the bridge, facing not a canopy but a wall of displays, graphics and marching columns of numbers, her high-speed hummingbird mumble slows and steadies to crisp precision, no command wasted, no time spent on anything but getting it done. It is not that nothing ever goes wrong or that Sunny never makes a mistake but that when such things do happen, her reaction is the right one, with no looking back in dismay. This is why bridge crews dote on her, vying for assignment, and why other star pilots, a notoriously proud and competitive lot, can be found observing at the back of the bridge or even "ghosting" her transitions on the simulator.

* * * *

Today's return to normal space was not going at all well. Sometimes it happens; not even the most skilled avoid every wonky patch of spacetime or recalcitrant bit of hardware. The three big phantasmajectors in the stardrive had been randomly overloading and cycling back on as drop-out time approached. "There's no impressing machinery," I said to nobody in particular in the Engineering Shop as we listened to the intercom while Drive Control handed off to Sunny and the bridge crew. Transitions are an all-hands affair for us, too, save whoever's in sleep cycle.

"Annnnd -- we're on line, DQ, thanks. Stand by on A, we'll load preset 12, Navs, are we go? Okay, load preset 12 in A, on my mark...mark. Ready B? One minute away from our window, oh! Reset B! DQ?"

Drive Control: "Not takin' the reset."

My toys, still acting up. Not what we in the biz would call a good sign. Yes, dear old Doggie[2] is A Starship, the most hyper-advanced tech you never heard about; but the fact remains, she first outran light before the Beatles (remember them? Mom's music) hit the pop charts and our super-duper Buck Rogers stardrive systems are cobbled together from the technology of several generations. It didn't start out that way; but when this ship was new, she carried 12AT7s and 6AU6s by the ton and the Navs computer alone took up nearly the space of a city block, three decks high, and was used as an auxiliary heat source. Back then, scurrying space-force lads in spiffy jumpsuits saluted one another smartly and everything was spit & polish, stencilled and baby-blue. It didn't last; the tech changed even quicker for them than it did for you and, eventually, so the the economics.

One of the stickier bits these days is a set of converters tucked in a rack bay off Drive Control, mediating between the techie-intensive DQ console, the delicate and precise Bridge systems, and the simple-as-a-hammer 1970's-vintage stardrives themselves. The converters work great most of the time -- the clever Canadian engineers at Horton Microsystems Ltd. can be counted on to come up with the right widget for the job, one of the very best windfalls from the tech-sharing between the Commonwealth and the States after the Crown could no longer afford to go it alone with starships and colonies (will they ever learn?) -- and when they don't work so great, a software reset from DQ usually does the trick. But the wrong kind of hiccup from the stardrive finals can lock them up so bad the only fix is PBF: force a reboot.

I was nearest the hatch to the corridor and managed to be on my way out it when Sunny asked over the 'com: "Engineering? Reset B, 30 seconds 'til decision. TD, Commit on A, now." And not a shiver as the preset ran its course, stepping A down and us closer to the more usual sort of reality. There's no quick way to do it; when we beat light, we sneak in and we sneak out.

It's not like missing the mark means we'll be a brief flash of bright light or smashed into a pile of goo. There's more than one way in and out of a stardrive field. Pilots and Navs sit down ahead of a transition and set up a series of scenarios, "presets," based on the best data, and they keep updating and adding to them right up 'til it's time. On the other hand, having to change a worked-out transition on the fly is when things are most likely to get...bumpy. Or worse.

I stepped as smartly down the hall as any of the Space-Force bravos of yore, strode through Drive control past Jonny Zed, near-somnolent over the RF/Reaction controls and got a wave from Eric, surrounded by the horseshoe-shaped console of Drive Control. Rounded the corner, up to Rack 94, cage 4, card 2 (not that any of us have 'em, like, memorized), opened the front of the card cage, yanked the card, waited just a tick and plugged it back in. Cluster of little leds went red, then, one by one, green, all but one.

"...Sixteen, fifteen, Preset into B? Ten, nine, eight, it's back!" as that last led went green, "Load B, okay? Commit on B! Three, two..." The ship fluttered the least bit as Sunny hit the Commit button and automation took over, phasing B and taking it down a big step on her, "Zero. Stand by for C in a minute-fifty, preset, mmmm, preset seven." I heard her from the various 'com positions as I was walking back through DQ (Jon at least appeared to nod) and making my way to the shop.

Big Tom lifted an inquiring eyebrow and I nodded, "Yeah, locked up."

I heard a "Feh," from the Chief's tiny office off the back of the room and Tom gave me a He's Not Happy Look. "Some excitement," he said, "That thing's gotta be settling down now. "

You'd've thought the Fates were waiting their cue: over the intercom, the tinny, twittering alarm of a 'Drive final dumping, the phantasmajector DC supply crowbarring and recycling (what's 37 kV at a few hundred Amps between friends?), followed by Sunny's mildly annoyed, "Need a reset on A, plea-- Reset C! About a minute away, okay, I see A back..."

It's always a long walk home; I turned and ran to the rack bay, trading a wry grin with Eric, who turned back to his console with a frown. Unplugged the #3 card (for C, oh how clever we are), slammed it back in and waited. No light...? Red leds came on. And stayed red. And stayed red. I reached up to do the idiot thing (if it didn't work once, it probably won't work twice,) hesitated and reached for one of the hot spares in the card cage, just as one green flicked on, and another, and...another.

"Ready on C? Preset seven, reload? No C. Engineering? We're gonna need C; next window's a couple hours off."

The final two leds went green, hey, it's talkin'!

"Got C, loaded, fifteen away." I just stayed put. It takes some exercise to keep my figure but I'd just as soon have it in the gym, when I'm planning on it. And just as well: "Ten, nine, another reset on A," I didn't even wait on DQ, just shucked the card out and back into its socket a little too fast and got away with it, green, green, green. "six, five, I'm committing," another shipwide shudder, not too bad but unusual for Sunny, "three, two, one, zero. And we're back in normal space. Systems checks, please...?"

It's fairly routine from here and unless somebody left a rock in the way, the bumpy parts are past. I headed back to the shop. Eric was busy with his checks but Jonny Zed looked up, blinking, asking, "So, Bobbi, what's up?"

"Do you even hear the pilot, Jon?" I shouldn't be so mean; Jon's a legacy, one of the original crew. But still, and even though RF/Reaction's pretty much a sinecure at transition, the new gear mostly runs itself, y'oughta at least be able to fake alertness, no matter how many times you've lived through the procedure.

"Welll, you've got no call t-" The rest of his reply was cut off as I slid the hatch shut. Some folks miss all the fun and then get huffy about it.

That many glitches in the drive is unusual even for us. This was a long jump but not that long. So I know where I'll be spending my time the rest of this inbound leg once we get the stardrive levels low enough to get into the Drive Room -- and I'm liable to be changing out a large and expensive tube or two once I get there.
1. Researching what and how much to say about the stardrive, I was tickled to find it's been rediscovered. Some clever lads -- probably Uncle Sam's boys -- have convinced the fellow to spin the theory just a bit, so it looks like a "you can't get there from here" proposition, but you can bet Dr. Alcubierre knows the real score.

2. You look like one of the bright ones; I'm sure it's obvious.

The January Indy BlogMeet

(Drmroll, please) Sunday, 25 January, 3:00 P.M. at Broad Ripple Brew Pub!

Fancy graphic to follow, but it'll be a big, big deal: JohnMosesBrowningDay, TamDay, BlogMeetDay! (Tam will be...gee, 18 or 19 this time).

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Happy, Happy News

Dead Somali Pirate Washes Ashore, unspent ill-gotten gains still in pocket.

Okay, there's one. Increment until problem is solved.

Seriously, next time these punks grab a ship, why doesn't some public-spirited county just bomb it? Do that a few times and you'd be amazed how quick the pirates find another line of work. The surviving pirates, anyway.

Me, Too

Atomic Nerds take a little time today for an installment of Buckleyian Repugnitis, expressed by its namesake popularizer as, "Please stay off my side." In this case, it's the sort of supposedly well-meaning and demonstrably ill-informed snatcher-away of nightlights and nightcaps that led me to take a long hard look at my own beliefs vis-a-vis religion and come to the realization that I'm simply tone-deaf on that topic.

...The subject on the Atomic Nerd dissecting-table has his very own brand of blithering insensibility; but don't take my word for it: go, read. No matter what you believe, you'll find it enlightening.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Indy 1500 Report

Tam's Shootin' Buddy showed up Saturday at 0750 on the dot. We were out the door shortly after 0800 and among the first few hundred arrivals at the Indy 1500 Gun and Knife show. Yes, that's what I said: early as we arrived, we parked the width of the lot in front of the East Pavilion away, in a spot near the edge of the crowd.

We had a good day; no really great finds (I passed up a Star "Firestar" in .40 S&W that would complete my set of these heavy, dependable little compacts, made in 9mm, .40 and .45. Nice little guns, terribly underated, did I mention the weight? Ow) but some good solid stuff -- magazines and ammunition and new belts (Amish leather, it said on the sign. If true, they have unusually thick hides) and EBR (AR-15) bits. Oh -- and books, the latest installment of the Most Dangerous Men collection of thumbnail biographies for me and a definitive treatment of John Moses Browning's .38 automatics for Tam.

The first hint of "interesting times" showed up in Shootin' Buddy's quest for AR-15 mags. One dealer told of showing up with a pallet-load of one of the better sorts...and selling them all by the end of the day Friday! Decent AR-15 mags weren't unfindable, but they were selling very well and prices were a bit up. Expect more and more of this.

Some of the better-known names in AR-15 parts kits were there -- Model "1" Distributors, among others -- and doing a land-office business. They'd brought plenty, fear not, o gentle reader.

By the time we'd worked our way from one end to the middle of the hall, crowds were pretty thick. We made a cargo run out to our vehicle (and smoke break for some members of the party) and noticed a very long line for tickets. Started back through the hall from the middle, became mired in traffic, backed out and started over from the far end, and still didn't manage to see everything. Crowds got so thick, it was impossible to look at much. Along the way, we met up with some old friends -- Farmer Frank and the redoubtable Sheriff Ken Campbell among others -- and just missed Caleb.

When we left about 1:00 p.m., the crowd was packed almost solid and yet the line to get in stretched halfway down one side of the hall and all along another -- and gunnies were still arriving!

It's a good gun show. There's plenty to see and to buy. But my advice is either show up early tomorrow, or be ready to make a long day of it.

And be like the kewl kids: if you haven't already, buy or build your "evil black rifle" now.

Update: I failed to mention that we adjourned to Broad Ripple Brew Pub for a bit of a snack after the event -- I can now recommend their delicious chili -- and afterward, dropped by Rene's bakery. One of the physically-smallest jewels in Broad Ripple's crown (I've always been reminded of the galley of a submarine, as he's got an entire bakery in the space of a garden shed, everything happening right behind the counter for customors to watch), it is also one of the most sparkling. How good is Rene's? I purchased a couple of sugar cookies for Shootin' Buddy and he rang up Roseholme about a half-hour after departure, still on the road, to annouce he had devoured one, hidden the other from himself to save for later, and wanted more as soon as possible.

Linguistic Patrol Rides Forth In Pursuit

Guffawed aloud at this comment to a news story about a 70-year-old woman holding at gunpoint the man who broke into her house after he had wrecked his car in front of a fire station:* "He could have been fleeing and alluding."

...Precisely what his allusions could have been to, we are not told; perhaps eluding. Or evading, even. Maybe fleeing from justice.

I'm pleased people express themselves but y'sit down in front of a machine connected to the fattest pipeline of useful information in the history of the world and pull a howler like that, somebody's gonna make mock. Might as well be me.

H/T to Kevin at The Smallest Minority for the story.
* Sumdood may have been involved. I can't say for certain but the case does have the earmarks of a Sumdood caper. The characteristically unfocused chaos and inept criminality, for instance.