03 April 2009

Another Day, Part 5

So. Jonny Zed, on his way. 'Cos the Chief couldn't find a Labrador Retriever to send, maybe? But even he remembers where the shunt-trip buttons are: big, red, DO NOT PUSH THIS BUTTON buttons that kill the three-phase 480 Volt main to the 'Drive generator* by convincing a 500-Amp circuit breaker that it's been tripped. At least, I think he does.

(This is actually unfair; sure, the man naps on duty but as I have mentioned in the past, Jonny Zed is a U.S. Space Force legacy with over fifty years in 'Drive Engineering; he was on the second U. S. Moonbase team, after Team One, "Project Hoplite," decided it made more sense to use all those nice, shiny parts to build a really big FTL ship instead of a missile base. This was back when leaving Earth was a one-way trip and it's all part of how we got where we are today, with a delicate balance-of-worry that keeps the Hidden Frontier hidden, a distant and not-entirely reconciled Far Edge doing who-knows-what, and tekkies like me helpin' slop freight from one world to another. But I digress; the point is, the man comes by his propensity to find the easy jobs and doze off a lot the hard way, years and years of frettin' and sweatin' over dangerous junk aboard kludge-ships I would warn my worst enemy not to fly on and he survived it).

There's a bright side to everything and this time, it means I have plenty of time to dig through the manuals while Jonny scares up another little electric car (Engineering only gets to keep one, the one I got here in) and makes his way sternward, complaining all the while.

I have my own complaints, presently led by the crummy way Tweed organizes their documentation. Or more like fails to; while the old, kludgy RCA 'Drive gens were massive, tricky to set up and trickier to keep in adjustment (and that was the third-generation stuff, tricked out in baby blue, silver and midnight blue, touted as "stable enough for remote control!" Mostly), the docs package was fantabulous -- blueprints twenty feet long and thick books filled with accurate line drawings, photographs, tutorials and carefully worked out step-by-step how-to-do-N instructions.

Tweed, on the other hand-- They do not appear to have wanted to spend any precious CAD time on the manual, photos might as well be soul-extracting taboo, procedures appear to have been written by engineering interns without sufficient security clearance to lay hands on the actual device and the schematics--! Oh, the schematics. Hundreds of 11" x 24" pages, comb-bound, with only the weakest attempt at an index and in no way arranged by ten-digit drawing number. Following any signal through the books means paging back and forth, leaving a trail of sticky notes stuck to the page edges, bearing cryptic notations like "FULL FILS = I1, X6-4 to J37-21 via P23, see 443 09873 223, sht 3 of 16, D 5." Tracing for troubleshooting that would have (literally!) been a short walk with the RCA "blueprints by the foot" approach becomes a maze of page-flipping far out of proportion to the simplicity of the actual circuit. --In this case, five ICs, a fiber-optic status link, one solid-state relay and a beer can sized contactor mounted on a DIN rail manage, somehow, to sprawl across a half-dozen different drawings, all containing fragments of a hundred other control, metering, status and signal circuits. Fun it is not; I have added color-coded stick-on tabs with drawing numbers and note after note on each drawing to indicate where each input and output is coming from or going to, but every new failure mode means starting over and adding a new layer of it-goes-here notations.

Luckily, the present failure crosses familiar turf once we get past the BACK HEAT OK proving; I've traced out half of that same circuitry before. It's a start.

By the time I get the books out and have identified the relevant pages in the big book'o'schematics, a half-hour has gone by and I am just wondering if I have time for cuppa tea when glonking noises followed by the outer hatch being undogged, opened and pulled to -- dog the hatch, Jon! -- announce my "helper" has arrived. Such timing!

* "Generator" is a misnomer here but it's the term we use for the whole RF assemblage, from exciter to three massive Phantasmajector power amplifiers and their combining network that feeds the less-complicated but CLASSIFIED that hooks to the 'Drive Field array on its mast at the tail of the USAS Lupine and can wrap the ship up in its very own packet of spacetime and push us superluminal.