Patiently, though not without a certain nagging urgency that he fought to suppress, Eldon searched through the archives of his suit computer. The thing had near infinite storage capacity, but it was necessarily small and slow, and the interface was only finger operated and the audio was poor. He had managed to find a few references to Keeble class vessels, but nothing like the kind of detail he needed. The thing had near infinite storage capacity, and this brought with it several serious disadvantages: when you had no AI to anticipate the information you needed you had to trawl through near infinite possibilities even when narrowed down by a finger-typed search (which Eldon had had to retype three times with his clumsy suited fingers). You also had to consider that though it had near infinite storage, it was a mere near infinite subset of the much larger near infinite quantity of information that was available throughout civilization. And with no AI to second guess what information you might need, he had to rely on associative algorithms and hope that some search he had made when in less dire circumstances (and therefore connected to a network) had in some way been related to the Keeble class.
In the background, his suit had been analysing the ambient radiation and the condition of the air in the airlock. The airlock would have been filled from a reserve tank in order to pressurise it, so it would be about 19% ox, and the rest would be a random inert (or near inert) gas - whatever happened to be available. This was sometimes problematic because if it wasn't nitrogen then the partial pressure would be wrong and he'd still suffocate (or get high, or poisoned). This at least was common knowledge - which meant it was something Eldon knew without having to look it up.
Finally, he found a brief but telling article about the Keeble.
"When the Keeble class was being designed, computer thermal efficiency was still a distant dream. Her processors were expected to run hot and unreliable, especially when managing the Yang-Hoffstein engines. This meant maintenance, which meant crew access which meant pressurised computing compartments. Keebles were originally going to have sealed liquid switching, so that the compartments could be de-pressurized during normal operation and radiate their excess heat into the vacuum of space, however an obscure casing defect meant that the liquid switches wouldn't stand up to repeated repressurizings. So the compartments had to be pressurized at all times. In the end, this was turned to the advantage of the Keeble class, because (unlike the Munsch class that preceded it) it did not need dedicated crew climate heating, since there was no harmful inonization in spite of the vast excess heat produced. Thermally, the computers were astonishingly inefficient, however the net thermal efficiency of the vessel was the highest that had ever been seen.
"It was ironic, therefore, that as the first hundred or so Keebles rolled of production, the first bromide based cold processors were produced commercially."
(Due to complaints from my public, the main character's name has been slightly adjusted. I want him to have a bit of a scifi name, but he shouldn't sound like something out of Tolkien...)
The title of this post refers to a key feature of old school scifi, which is that it has to reference current technology, mixing the familliar with a little bit of whatever is on the cutting edge. So in here I've paralleled FWS, wikipedia, computer cooling issues, data storage capacity, and I've also thrown in something about thermally efficient processors that I read about in NS a couple of weeks ago.
I've also put in some staple stuff about space-suits and airlocks. A lot of the drama of real-life technology comes from poor design, and poor design generally appears in the least convenient places. Several of the classic SF writers of the C20 make the mistake of assuming that in the far future, all design flaws will be ironed out. But even in the far future, there will be a shortage of engineering designers, so for some things, below average designs will have to be used.
Post a Comment