So… I’m working away on Steel Wind Rising, happily tapping out a chapter about the nuclear fast attack submarine, USS Albany, when I come across a highlighted note-to-self in my story outline. It’s the kind of prompt that I often leave for myself: a simple reminder that more research is needed before I can finish writing the chapter in question. In this case, I need to alleviate (at least some of) my ignorance regarding radio antennas aboard Los Angeles class attack subs.
I know I’ll eventually have to make a phone call to someone who actually knows about submarine antennas, but I want to prepare for the conversation by reading up on the subject ahead of time. Basically, I’d like to ask good questions and avoid wasting the time of my expert.
I start with my usual stack of reference books: Combat Fleets of the World, Jane’s Fighting Ships, Jane’s Submarines, the submarine edition of Weapons of War, and even The Complete Idiots Guide to Submarines. Despite the excellence of these resources, I learn very little of interest beyond the fact that the hardware I’m interested in is designated as the ‘AN/BRA-34 High Data Rate Antenna’.
And off to the interwebs I go. I type ‘AN/BRA-34’ into my search bar, and Google immediately does three things:
First, it actually provides some potentially useful links to web pages about submarine radio systems. Good. That’s what I came here for.
Second, Google offers suggested revisions to my search terms, just in case I accidentally conjured up dumb old attack submarine antenna hardware when I was actually looking for some cute and sexy brassieres. Did I perhaps mean ‘BRA SIZES 34’? Or maybe ‘BRA 34C’, ‘BRA 34 DDD’, or ‘BRA 34 DDDD’? (I’m curious as to why the keyword algorithm skips over cup sizes A, B, D, and even DD. It’s like anything beyond a C-cup requires at least three letters to be interesting. But that’s another blog for another day.)
And third, Google AdWords floods my search sidebar with links and photos offering lingerie for sale. The ad contextualization software is so determined to put some kind of merchandize on my screen, that it burrows into the middle of alphanumeric military nomenclatures to find the only fragment it can hang an advertisement on.
I’m so put off by this intrusion of crass commercialism into my legitimate research that I only click on three of the bra advertisements. You know… for purposes of accuracy and authenticity.
So far as I’ve been able to determine, none of the featured brassieres can access EHF SATCOM from periscope depth. I guess that means I’ve still got a phone call to make.
PS: Steel Wind Rising is flowing quickly now. A finished first draft is not very far in the future, if I can stop clicking on lingerie ads that is.