Monday, July 9, 2018

The Ship's Computer

I was on the Thera en route to the Asteroid Belt. The part where the Belters didn't shoot at Earthmen. Publicly I was there to examine the effects of space travel on my metabolism. People had changed in a few hundred years due to war, medicine, and their own tweaking. I was special.

Privately, I worried the Big Brain. It decided to send me on a tour of the Solar System or at least the parts we could reach. Professor Ormsby spent most of the trip in our cabin fuming at being away from his lab and business. He was poor company when he was in a good mood and I avoided him and hung out with the crew. I was amazed a ship could be run with so little automation and processing power. I guess I never heard of the Apollo Program. Despite the nano plague the Space Fleet and its auxiliaries ran a pretty smart outfit.

The Space Fleet had seen some criticism for its employment of computers lately. The top brass were quick to defend Fleet policy.

To whit:

Even with current tube technology ships can't afford the space and mass to include a state of the art  analytical engine and indeed some ships can't afford anything but the most rudimentary devices. Fleet computers filled in the gaps economically and efficiently and were a credit to their uniforms.

Yes most computers were female personnel. The reason for this was the limited resources a ship possessed. Air, water, and food all takes up weight and space in a hull. Women tend to be smaller than men and use less resources. Brain activity contrary to popular belief uses a lot of calories and again female personnel use up less resources than men.

This is doubly important because on most Fleet ships crew members have more than one job when the vessel is underway. Computers have one full time job but no fixed hours, sometimes working round the clock to perform a particularly tricky bit of navigation. A one jobber should take as little resources as possible.

Needless to say a competent computer was a valued member of any ship's crew regardless of gender or background.

The Thera's computer was Dr. Deborah Wu from Luna. So you could say the ship's computer wore heels, though only for formal occasions. She was one of the youngest computers in the Fleet and one of the best. In fact the captain had already repelled several attempts to win her away.

Dr. Wu was very interested in archaic methods of computation. Of course my boss, the Big Brain wasn't letting me tell anyone about that. No need to start people on building compact electronics and more AIs. I was as vague as I could be and played up the stupid guy from the past card as much as possible. Then I hit on getting her to talk about her job and duties.

This went on for quite a while, since we were on what amounted to a milk run and the navigation was fairly routine. She showed me her collection of nomograms on microfiche cards as well as her own hand drawn ones on paper. She showed me her electric slide rule. It was a cute little affair that used a back projector to let you dial up whatever scale you wanted and show it on the slide. It stored dozens of functions.

I wasn't allowed to tour the bridge yet but Debra took me to the uppermost engineering deck, right under the tractor rockets and showed me a slide rule table. You could plop your electric slide here, onto contacts and use it to load data directly onto computers. It also allowed ultra fine manipulation of the slide via waldoes.

It was a very nice gesture and I told Dr. Wu she reminded me of Margaret Hamilton. Then I had to spent 30 minutes remembering everything I could about Margaret Hamilton. I had to spoil it at the end, of course.

I asked her if she had an assistant who repeated everything she said? She was amused. Apparently Dr. Wu knew who Sigourney Weaver was ... and they still had that movie.