Saturday, 2 November 2013

Mobile Tractor Unit

The pre-sales support engineer (that's the title his business card gave him) bumped into me while I was handing over a salvaging contract. “Mara,” he chimed (oblivious to the fact that I call myself Rinn), “I've got just the thing to help your salvaging work!”

I corrected him about my name (it's a long story, my name is Rinn, I'm from Mara) and started listening as best I could. There was time, and he was buying.

“At the Minmatar Mining Corporation, we're always looking for ways to improve the efficiency of our operations. One idea that came across our table recently was to take a temporary container and stick tractor beams on it. The project is in beta at the moment, but basically the structure will gather any jettison cans and wrecks in the area, saving you the effort of running around the battlefield or mining operation, picking up valuables.”

“It would mean a lot to us if you would just try them out for a while, and let us know how useful it is, and what improvements you'd like to see. What do you say?”

I looked over the infomercial material. What I saw didn't exactly fill me with confidence in the MMC's ability to build a finished product: the screen contained some kind of graphical glitches leaving me feeling like I was trapped inside a black box staring at the stars:
The Preview view of the Mobile Tractor Unit was odd

“Look, it's still in beta, there are some wrinkles to steam out yet. While we're on the subject, the controller software isn't so smart: it will get confused if there are any major structures within 40km, and you really don't want to put these things less than 5km apart. Just … just trust me on that.” The sales critter winced, and it was obvious he didn't want to talk about it.

“Okay,” I reassured him, “I'll take a look at this thing for you. It just so happens that I have a salvaging job to do. Let's see how this thing behaves in the real world!”

“Great!” cheered the sales critter, “I'll send you a dozen. No need to give them back afterwards.”

The Mobile Tractor Unit. It's a box with a tractor beam. With Noctis to indicate dimensions.

Based on the advice I was given, the plan was to plonk the unit down in a wreck field, proceed to another wreck field, salvage that, then return to the first wreck field. The stats proudly proclaimed by the propaganda were, “45 second setup, 30 seconds between scans for objects to marshal,” indicating that it would take around 7 minutes to clean up the field we left it in.

After salvaging the second field, we returned to the tractor unit, finding that it had successfully deployed itself. It had retrieved one wreck from the wreck field. Not the most auspicious start!

Just to make sure I hadn't made some kind of mistake in the setup and testing of the unit, I took the tractor unit for a 30km hike on micro warp (which takes a surprisingly long time in a Noctis) and plonked it down a bit further away from the wreck field. Then I headed back to station to sort out delivery of the salvage I had collected.

On returning the second time, the tractor unit had not recovered any wrecks.

“Ahh … yeah …” stammered the sales critter, “I must have forgotten to tell you that part: the tractor unit only operates under supervision. Beta design and all, you don't want that kind of thing just … y'know … achieving sentience and taking over the world or something. Notthatthishaseverhappened

Yup. I believe you.

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