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Friday, February 21, 2014

Overclocking (#FridayFlash)

Be easy on me, this is my first attempt at steampunk.

Image source: openclipart.org
Jacob looked up, hands still in the box. “You over-clocked it, didn’t you?”

“Yes,” said Thomas. “Does it matter?”

“Of course it matters!” Jacob threw up his hands. “You can’t just swap in a higher speed drive and expect it to go.”

“Why not?”

“Look here. Take this loupe, put it on.” Jacob took up a long pointer. “See here?” He prodded a gear train, deep inside the box. “Liberty Gearworks… well, you’re lucky if your geartrains are properly aligned to begin with. They stamp out their gears as fast and cheap as they can, instead of properly casting them. Nothing’s balanced, nothing’s deburred. That’s why we can all afford a gearworks if we want. We just can’t all have a very good one.”

“So what happened?”

“You over-clocked it. You swapped in a drive with a heavier mainspring, bigger flywheel, bigger ratio drive gear. And did nothing else. Right? Right. So you were spinning the same shoddy geartrains faster. They got hot and threw off oil, and that just made them hotter. Heat makes the gears expand, so you had even more friction…”

“Vicious cycle.”

“Yes. Sooner or later, one of the geartrains jumped a tooth and the whole thing jammed up. Like this.” Jacob poked a gear, deep within the works, with the pointer.

“But I need this thing to run faster,” Thomas protested. “I’m trying to get all the calculations done, and now I’m even farther behind. How can I over-clock it and not have this happen?”

“You don’t. You need a gearworks that’s designed to spin at higher speeds.”

“I don’t suppose you can…” Thomas trailed off.

“I won’t. British contraband gets you six months in prison, you know that. I get shady characters coming in here all the time, offering me parts from Doulton and even Royal Cogsworth, but the local Tea Party watches all the gearhead shops. A few years ago, you might have gotten away with it; but with the Centennial coming up next year, nobody’s in a mood to forget the Civil War.”

“But I know it’s done! And legally! Or so they say.”

“It’s done. But it takes either much work, or much money. Liberty gears their drives as high as their geartrains can take, at least the way they come out of the factory.” Jacob opened a drawer, and took out a geartrain. “You can rebuild the geartrains yourself, or pay to have them rebuilt.”

“It…” Thomas squinted at the gears through the loupe. “These aren’t the same gears. They’re smoother. And they have holes.”

“They’re the same gears. I drilled holes to make them lighter. I also deburred and polished every single one, then I aligned and balanced the shaft.”

“A work of art, Jacob. How long did it take?”

“A week. And how many geartrains do you have in that works?”

“My God. At least a hundred. But if they were all rebuilt like this, how much could I over-clock it?”

Jacob picked up the drive unit that he had detached first thing. “Faster than this. I know of some spinners who run their rebuilds with steam drives. Three or four times faster than a factory Liberty.”

Thomas’s eyes widened. “A steam drive, on a tabletop gearworks? If I had two years, or could afford two years of your labor… no. All right, Jacob. Set it to rights.”

“It just needs two replacement geartrains, Thomas. I can have it ready by tomorrow. Bring me the punch-tape, and the original drive, and I’ll reset it. You won’t lose anything but time.”

“Time is the most important thing, of course. Perhaps I can borrow a colleague’s gearworks to catch up.”

“Or I could put you in touch with a spinner with a rebuilt gearworks.” Jacob rummaged in another drawer. “Ah.” He passed a card to Thomas. “This gentleman rents time on his unit. Not cheaply, mind you, but not as much as two years of skilled labor.”

“It would be worth it, if I could catch up after this debacle,” said Thomas.

“I won’t ask. It must be important, though. But do send him an inquiry. Tell him I recommended him to you as well.”

“I will. And thank you, Jacob.”

“My pleasure,” said Jacob, as Thomas left. “It’s fools like you that keep me in business. Ha. But I’ll do right by your gearworks.” He took up tools and got to work.


  1. I found this interesting, and yet I'm not quite sure what's happening. Is he selling actual time?

  2. my complete lack of technical nous left me floundering here a bit I'm afraid Larry.

  3. Reads a bit on the instructional side leaving the story on the sidelines, but the details are nice. Characters feel pretty good and lively.

  4. It read lively and fast, but I was confused the whole time. Maybe if you mentioned what they were building and not just the parts.

  5. I believe it was difference engine- an analog computer. Think brass cash-registers and manual adding machines, only designed to handle complex equations.

  6. I too was thinking "steam-driven computer." For some reason I found myself thinking of the film Brazil too.

  7. Sounds like a mechanics dream - afraid you lost me too. I liked Jacob though.

  8. My husband, a mechanic, would probably understand this perfectly! Me, well, count me in with the rest of 'em, I'm afeared ...

    When I ask hubs how his day went, he starts talking like this and I've mastered the art of nodding and smiling in the right spots. Once I hear "toolbox" I'm pretty much zoned out... I did read your story twice, though, trying to make heads or tails.

    On the plus side, I must say your dialogue is crackin' and absolutely natural.

  9. Oh gawd, I just read your note about "being easy on you" at the top. Obviously we're far from easy, Larry. Sorry! I actually never knew what steampunk was, even though I've seen examples of steampunk jewellery and fashion online - even steampunk weddings! Now I have a taste of steampunk writing as well. Thanks Larry! And good on you for trying something new.

  10. Like the others, I won't pretend to understand it all. I can appreciate the capitalistic nature at the end. There's always work to do if you know who keeps breaking things without understanding them in the first place. It kind of reminds me of copier service people. The fix it just enough, knowing they'll be called back in a week or two. Can't blame them, though. That's just the way of the world.

  11. I think Anthony and Steve are right, sounds like a desktop computer to me. I wonder if Jacob can come and overclock mine! I've missed your Friday flashes. Great work as always always, Larry.

  12. I love steampunk! You got the contraband political aspect of it, and the scence of a different time and place, and I think the tech part was top notch. The dialogue had a nice flow to it, which I liked. I'm actually hoping for a second part or a wider world in some other flash.

  13. I'll be honest, I didn't really get this at all. Perhaps I'm just not technically minded.

  14. Hilarious! A great take on the overclocking craze of the 90s. At least Thomas wants to actually calculate something for his work -- most overclockers I knew just stopped at, "So it can go faster."

    What I found most intriguing was the setting. I know the UK and the US celebrated 100 years of diplomatic relations when Thatcher was the UK PM, so if all else was the same in this history, UK imports shouldn't have been a problem. That they are in this world well after the Civil War is over is fascinating.

  15. Tech support on a difference engine - great concept. I like the idea of overclocking a gear train. Something like that would cause more than a wisp of magic smoke!


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