atomic_fungus (atomic_fungus) wrote,

#3500: This is real hard SF...and man, what a story.

"A Tall Tail" by Charles Stross. It's about exotic propulsion systems for rockets...with a Cold War twist. It doesn't take long to read, either.

The idea that you could fuel an ICBM with extremely hazardous chemicals which would then give it a sufficient boost to achieve solar escape velocity--wow. We are, however, talking about some extremely nasty chemicals. One is a nerve toxin which ignores personal protective equipment and which doesn't biodegrade (and would be radioactive to boot; read the story!) and the other is a highly unstable compound of fluorine and oxygen which explodes if it gets warmer than liquid nitrogen.

But a missile small enough to be mobile-launched that would basically go straight up out of the Earth's atmosphere and fly past Pluto--

You can't routinely launch something like that, not from Earth's surface. Maybe from the Moon, though you'd have to be very careful about decontamination of space suits coming in from the launch area. Maybe just do the entire thing with remotes, waldos, and robots, because you for damn sure don't want to track that shit into the living area.

There is a whole lot of fascinating science in that story, though.

* * *

Incidentally--adding beryllium and flourine to the space shuttle's fuels? If that bit in the story is true it would have resulted in a 5x increase in the shuttle's payload.

But dang. There are a lot of cases where I scoff at the excessively fervent attempts at being eco-friendly which come from NASA and other government agencies; for example, I make no secret of my disdain for their switch to CFC-free insulating foam and its role in the Colombia disaster. And even I don't like the idea of fueling the shuttle with that shit.

So, yeah. If this is correct, there are ways to build a single-stage-to-orbit rocket vehicle which would even be 100% reusable...but it would spew toxic and corrosive crap into the atmosphere--stuff that's really toxic and corrosive, I mean. Beryllium compounds and hydrofluoric acid, things which make space shuttle SRB exhaust look like tasty candy...and the hypothetical fuel combination this story discusses makes hydrofluoric acid look like tasty candy. Shit.

When you make an engineering decision, sometimes you have to consider more than just the performance of the system you're designing.

* * *

Not just Boston, but Chicago is also violating the First Amendment. Big surprise, right? That these major Democrat strongholds are the ones who simply don't give a rat's ass about freedom of speech, and are using the power of government to punish a corporation run by someone whose opinions they don't like?

Unlike the poster at AoSHQ, I do encourage everyone to eat the tasty food at Chick-fil-A. I'm going ASAP--there's one in Orland Park and I've got to head over that way to buy gyoza from the Oriental Market there, so I'll just plan on getting lunch (or dinner) at that place.


* * *

As for me, I'm trying to decide what I want to eat. Culver's is out since I had that for, essentially, breakfast. I don't have the energy to cook, either.

Well, I've got ham and cheese and bagels in the fridge. I guess I know what to eat since nothing else comes to mind.

* * *

Incidentally? When I got home from picking up my pills, I saw that someone had taken the fake fireplace. And as I was going inside, when I looked again to verify that my eyes had not deceived me, I realized that the BB-riddled louvered doors were also gone.

So all that's left down there now is the stack of scrapwood and the computer monitor (CGA) which I'm going to take care of either now or tomorrow at the latest. I have to find an electronics recyling point for that thing, but that won't be too much trouble. I might drag out the old Betamax and take it with, too, since it's been sitting in that garage for about 20 years...and it was busted to begin with.

See, there's this little idler assembly in the thing which died after several years' worth of use. Naturally we took it to a repair shop (this was 1987) and the repair tech--thinking he was hot shit--fucked it up by tweaking the tracking pots on the mainboard.

Here's a hint: you don't touch those fucking things without some pretty high zoot equipment backing you up. At a bare minimum you need a specialized oscilloscope and an expensive reference tape to correctly adjust those things, and you really need to know what the hell you're doing if you're going to monkey with them. Why?

...because if you monkey with them, you take a VCR that can play just about any tape that's out there and turn it into a paperweight which can only play tapes it recorded, that's why. And that's exactly what that idiot technician did.

Those pots are set at the factory so that the tape is properly framed and registered, so that the machine can play any tape which was recorded on a machine that was in proper tune and trim. They use a tape with a metal frame that is very precisely recorded to make these adjustments, and a technician watches where certain pips show up on that specialized oscilloscope while he or she twiddles the potentiometers. Once the adjustments are complete, the pots are staked with some kind of paint or glue that's usually tinted with some primary color to tell you keep your dickskinners off these, moron!

This nameless tech monkeyed with them. The VCR needed a $5 part to be returned to perfect function, and all he had to do was replace it. Instead he replaced that part and fucked up the calibration.

But! A couple of years later my then-girlfriend saw that her neighbor was throwing out a similar model. Mirabile visu it had exactly the same problem that our VCR had before the idiot tech verfuckled the thing. So what did I do?

Naturally I took the $5 part out of our verfuckled VCR and put it into the one from the trash heap...and it played tapes perfectly. And you bet your ass I didn't touch the calibration pots.

But we didn't toss the verfuckled unit, and it still sits in the garage. So it's going to have to go, sooner or later.

Isn't it fun?

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