Thursday, October 24, 2019

The Shrewd King 14.4: Excruciating nerdy detail

Quinn, Miguel, Donnie and Sam met where I-96 crossed over Cedar Street, three miles east of the M-99 exit.

Quinn figured the best way to train Donnie and Sam was to have them install sensors. He brought along a half dozen of Dmitri’s latest-and-greatest; combination seismic and audible sound sensors.

Several things about the installation were challenging. There were two spans to monitor, securing the sensors to the structure were challenging and disguising the solar cells that powered the sensors was almost impossible.

Quinn knew that eventually they would tie the sensor information into the wireless grid. To do that, they would have to mount antenna high enough to have line-of-sight with Capiche some fifteen miles distant.

Fortunately, there was no shortage of utility poles close to the overpass. The sensors did not need much electricity and it was simple to mount a small solar cell near the top of one of those poles.

It should be noted that “simple” is not always “easy”.

Wires were dropped down the center of the pole and routed through an access hole near the bottom. The wires then ran to a battery that was tucked up beneath the south span on one of the I-beam flanges.

In lieu of the WIFI transmitter, Quinn had Donnie install an LED laser that would strobe when signal inputs exceeded pre-programmed thresholds. The laser was pointed toward Capiche and could be seen from five miles away IF the viewer were in the right place.

They dialed in the sensitivities while Donnie was up in the air by having him hold his hand in front of the laser while Miguel thumped the middle of the span with an 8’ two-by-four. Miguel held the stud vertically and lifted and dropped it from knee height.

Below the span, Quinn fiddled with the sensitivity screws until it went off reliably while Miguel was thumping. Then Quinn increased the sensitivity by a quarter turn. Rubber soled boots are quieter than pine boards.

After Donnie got down, he asked Quinn “Why can’t Dmitri put tell-tales on the sensor? That sure would be easier than hanging onto the pole one-handed for ten minutes.”

Quinn said, “That is a great idea. I think you should tell him.”

Donnie tuned in the next sensor while Miguel was on the pole and Sam, Donnie’s right-hand-man thumped the bridge.

Quinn explained the procedure. One screw was turned to minimum sensitivity and the other screw was slowly increased in sensitivity until it reliably triggered. Then tuner kept count of the turns it took to return it to minimum sensitivity and wrote that number down.

The same procedure was repeated with the other screw except it was not necessary to turn it back to minimum sensitivity afterward.

The tuner returned the first screw to the position where it reliably triggered and then added a quarter-turn to both screws.

The upside of the two-by-four method was that it was fast and absolutely bullet-proof for triggering when horses and vehicles crossed the bridge. It was not quiet as bullet-proof for foot traffic.

After a late lunch, Quinn floated the idea of sending Miguel back with Donnie and taking Sam back to the M-99 observation post. Columbia Road was Miguel’s home grounds and he could show Donnie subtle details that would otherwise take him a month to find.

The other advantage was that Quinn could cross-train Sam on what they knew about mortars and setting up repeaters.

The only person who was ambivalent about the proposal was Sam. Miguel’s legs were still rubbery from being on the pole and he knew Donnie had to be feeling it. He figured it would be a leisurely trip back to the Columbia Road bridge and he had been making a pile of money taking critters to Steve’s store.

Sam, on the other hand, had heard stories about how hard-core Quinn was. The stories had lost nothing in the retelling. Sam was not sure he wanted to spend much time near Quinn.

Quinn was a total bad-ass. He killed five hostiles while he had a broken leg. The last two were close enough to spit on and he ten-ringed both of them.

According to the stories, Quinn decided some guy named Cameron was holding the team back. He then proceeded to kick Cameron Duckworth’s ass and then convinced of the squad to do the same. Cameron quit the fighter force shortly afterward and then disappeared.

Heard across a campfire, miles from home, the story had sinister overtones.

Sam’s concern was that he wasn’t sure he fit in with the rest of the fighters. In a word, Sam was a nerd.

He knew what baud-rate and frequency meant and could code applications for a Raspberry Pi and write Python applications. He recognized a Yagi antenna by sight and knew the difference between a serial data bus and parallel data bus.

He also wore glasses.

It wasn’t that he was physically infirm. Even before Ebola Sam was on the track team but he wasn’t into contact sports.

Sam was anxious that Quinn would decide he was another Cameron Duckworth. Sam did not want to get his ass kicked multiple times. Nor did he want to leave the fighters.

If Sam did not say much on the hike back to M-99, Quinn did not notice. He was busy scanning the surroundings. After a bit, Sam picked up on Quinn’s restless attentiveness and he started scanning as well.

After a bit, “We are being watched” Sam reported to Quinn.

“Yup.” Quinn agreed.

“As long as we stay on the road and keep moving, we won’t have any problems.” Quinn said.

“How can you know that?” Sam asked.

“Most of these folks think there are two kinds of people with guns.” Quinn said. “We stay on the road and keep moving unless there is a problem. The other kind of people with guns are ones who stop and make problems.”

“They will give us the benefit of the doubt as long as we keep moving. Or, if there is a problem and we show up to help.”

“Otherwise, all bets are off” Quinn concluded.


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