Hi there. My name’s Rusty, and I’m an air conditioning tech. I’m not a rocket scientist, but I know how to wield an electronic screwdriver and recharge the freon in a unit. Lately I’ve taken a job with Roy’s Environmental Systems Technology. It sounds impressive, but really it’s just another air conditioning and heating company, nothing cutting edge, nothing fancy. We mostly just call it REST.
However I am proud to say that we’re a pretty good air conditioning and heating company. We can do everything from window units in studio apartments to million dollar custom factory installations. However big or small your job is, REST will get it done, on time, on budget, (often under-budget), and very, very reliably. We focus on simple, reliable systems. Most of the time if something breaks, the customer can fix it themselves without even calling us. If it does require an onsite visit, we’re usually there in an hour or two. Honestly, once we get a system up and running, it very rarely breaks outright. More often, the the company has simply grown to a point where they need need another unit or two, so I hop in my truck, drive over, and install it. No muss. No fuss.
Lately, however, we’ve been losing business to a newcomer in town, and I’m not quite sure why. A couple of years ago Water Supply-Strategic Tactical Air Recycling (WS-STAR) opened up a branch in our town. WS-* (as my IM crazy kids would type) came about from the merger of Secure Operations Air and Power (SOAP) with Expert Machine Lubrication: Radiators, Power, and Cooling (XML-RPC).
WS-* started taking out ads in the local business rags, and began chatting up the managers on the golf course. They explained to our customers, who had previously been quite happy with us, that a traditional cooling and heating system wasn’t good enough for the new millenium. Instead they needed a hermetically-sealed, precision controlled, air filtration and recycling system that would guarantee them a precise balance of nitrogen, oxygen, and H20 at all times and which could be remotely monitored from their offices. Instead of just pumping in air from outside and cooling or heating it as appropriate, they’d install huge tanks of water, nitrogen, and oxygen which they’d truck over from their factory every week for an ongoing fee. Then they’d inject this into the factory in the correct mixture, and then pump it out again. After all, you wouldn’t want to depend on the atmosphere for something as critical as the right percentage of oxygen, would you?
To install one of these very impressive systems, they’d spend months swapping out glass for bullet proof plastic, sealing the walls, replacing external doors with air locks, and installing internal doors that dropped down with warning sirens and flashing red lights in the event of a vacuum breech just like you see on Lost. They promised the managers a system that was so incredibly air tight, they could run their factory on the Moon.
Of course, getting ready to move your home or office or factory to the Moon costs money. Here at REST we used to think a million dollars was a big job, and the salespeople high-fived everyone and took the mechanics out for pizza when they landed one of those big jobs. Over at WS-*, prices start at a million dollars; and that’s just to install a small system for the corner bodega. Retooling an entire factory to WS-* specifications can run into the hundreds of millions or more. In some cases, the existing building was just too old and too full of holes to ever hermetically seal, so to install the WS-* system, they had to shut down the entire production line, tear down the building, and erect a shiny new building that met WS-*’s specifications. You can imagine what that cost. At least once, when the factory finally came online a couple of years later they discovered a new competitor had spent a week installing a REST system instead, and had now stolen their market out from under them.
The thing I never understood was that the companies WS-* was selling these Moon-ready systems to were the same companies that had been very happily using our old, prosaic Earthbound AC and heating for years. These were all factories on Earth, not on the Moon. I’m sure somewhere if you looked hard enough, you could find one or two companies that are dreaming about building factories on the Moon, but personally I’ve never met them.
Oh, one more thing. The last two or three years were a little slow here at REST while a lot of our biggest customers invested all their time and budget in WS-*. For a while we made our nut on homes and small businesses that couldn’t afford WS-*’s prices even if they wanted to. A couple of those small businesses are now quite large businesses, and starting to compete with the big boys that spent the last two years wrestling with WS-*. And lately we’ve started hearing from our older, larger customers again. They’ve been running their hermetically-sealed, precision controlled, air filtration and recycling system with service level guarantees for a precise balance of nitrogen, oxygen, and H20 at all times and which can be remotely monitored from their offices for a couple of years now; and they’ve noticed something: their factories are too hot.
It seems the big, complicated, WS-* systems aren’t working out quite like they were supposed to. The WS-* technicians are visiting their shop floors daily, and twiddling this knob and tweaking that dial; and inspecting every widget and seal with some really impressive equipment that would look good on Star Trek. Yet they still can’t seem to get the temperature below 83Ëš in the summer or above 57Ëš in the winter. Now the lawyers are waving multi-hundred page contracts in each others’ faces, and threatening lawsuits; and the factory still can’t maintain an even 72Ëš. Tomorrow I’m visiting one of these factories that just escorted the WS-* techs off the premises to install one of our old, reliable REST systems so they finally get their temperature back to a workable level. The next few years look like they’re going to be quite busy.