1636 The Kremlin Games – Snippet 31

1636 The Kremlin Games – Snippet 31


“Thank God,” Bernie said when Natasha handed him the latest batch of letters. “There wasn’t anything about plumbing in those books. I hope I’ve got an answer to that problem.” Natasha had made a rare foray into the kitchen, searching for him. He was having his usual sandwich lunch.

Dear Bernie,

Vic Dobbs says you left out the vent stack for your plumbing and that’s most likely the problem. I typed out the sections he suggested in some of his plumbing books. Without the vent stack you get a buildup of pressure or a vacuum in the septic system and it forces the dirty, yuck, water back up or clogs up the system. He made a drawing to show you what you did wrong. I’ve included that along with the notes I typed. He also said you’d probably never seen one, since they’re usually inside the walls, so don’t feel bad about it. This ought to fix the problem. Just in case, you might want to have that Vladimir guy contract to have some books on plumbing that Vic recommends copied or scanned and reprinted. A list is included.

I saw your father in town yesterday. He said to tell you hello and wants to know can he sell your car? It’s in the way, he said. But, Bernie, a car engine is worth a small fortune these days. He also said you should write him and your sisters. They want to hear from you, too.

Old Grantville is rocking along just fine right now. We’ve got, I swear, thousands and thousands of people around here now. It’s so different from before.

I hope you’re doing well and I hope the plumbing helps. The docs think your slow fever is typhoid, and that you’re right. It’s shit getting into the water supply that causes it. I bet it’s a lot different than working on cars was. But then, who’d have ever dreamed I’d wind up working in a research center, of all things? For both of us I think it’s more important work than we would have had up-time.

Well, gotta go. I need to have this done before I get to work so Mom can drop it off at your Russian spy’s place to be sent on. Tell Natasha I said hi!




“You have wood in your hair.” Natasha grinned. Bernie needed some management and she found she liked that. She peered at his hair. “Quite a bit of wood. What have you been doing out there in that shop of yours?”

Much to Natasha’s surprise, Bernie went outside to shake off the wood shavings. “Sorry about that,” he said when he came back to finish his lunch. “I didn’t realize. I brushed myself off, but didn’t know I had it in my hair. We were working on the pattern lathe. Finally got the setup for that connecting piece Ivan the Tolerable wanted.” Bernie had gotten into the habit of giving various people at the Dacha nicknames. “Now I need to talk to the guys about this vent stack thing. Maybe we can get the bathroom back in operation.” Bernie gulped down the last of his sandwich and beer and rose from the table again. “Excuse me. I really want to get the plumbing working. We can’t persuade anyone else to install it till we get it working and winter is coming on pretty quick. I really don’t want another spring typhoid outbreak.

“Oh, Brandy said to tell you hi. And I’m going to be up late studying, again.”

Natasha barely repressed the snort. Studying, he said. Studying that little blonde, more likely.

She shouldn’t mind it, Natasha knew. It was common with men. But this was Bernie, and for some reason it bothered her.


“Could you light a couple more candles?” Bernie smiled at Anya. “I can’t tell you how much I miss good lighting, I really can’t.”

Bernie liked Anya. She was smart, willing and practical. Bernie was perfectly aware that she was using him. He was using her, too, but it was friendly and fun. Anya went off to get more candles.

Bernie sat down with the book, a hand-typed and drawn copy of freshman algebra. Algebra had been one of his “did well” courses. One of the ones that he had found fun. But it had been a few years and the nerds were desperate to get through algebra so that they could get on with calculus. Not one of Bernie’s good courses.

“Bernie, could you teach me math?” Anya asked. Her English was still far from good but it was getting better every day.

“Sure. Algebra?”

“No. Math of accounts.”

“Accounting?” Bernie stopped and considered. Actually it made quite a lot of sense. Russia was trying desperately to move from a primarily barter economy to a moneyed economy. That would require bookkeeping and accounting. A growth industry, they would have said up-time. “Yes, that makes a lot of sense. I’m not sure I have all the stuff we’ll need. In fact, I’m darn sure that I don’t. But we can make a start. I don’t know all that much about double-entry bookkeeping, but I’m pretty sure it involves something like this.”

Bernie pulled over a sheet of paper and drew a grid. “The item bought or sold. The amount it’s bought for here or sold for here that way you have a record as it comes in and goes out so . . .”

They got a start on it, then Bernie got back to refreshing his memory about algebra.

All the things he didn’t know meant Bernie had to study. It was a lot more intense than school had been and he had come to think of it as much more important. Importance didn’t make it easier or more fun. But, as with anything, practice did. All the stuff that he had been sure that he would never need once he graduated high school, he needed now. He had to interpret words he’d never heard and in contexts he’d never dreamed of. What the hell was calcareous grassland? Calcareous turned out to be to do with chalk or calcium; at least that’s what the dictionary said. But calcareous grassland? How could chalk grow grass? He had to go to the dictionary all the time to find the weird stuff that the Russian nerds wanted.

Then there was Bernoulli’s Law. Petr Nickovich had found a description of how wings worked in one of the books. The explanation described a wing’s dependence on Bernoulli’s Law. Then they had compared that with Newton’s three laws and the effects hadn’t matched up. The nerds had come to the conclusion that it couldn’t work that way. Newtonian physics, Bernie was assured, would require a small plane to be traveling at over three hundred miles an hour to fly. They believed Bernie that powered flight was possible. They even believed him and the books about the size of the wings and the speed of the aircraft. They knew and understood that they were missing something, but they didn’t know what. Bernie didn’t know what either. He built paper airplanes and wooden airplanes that flew, based on the rubber-band-powered airplanes he had played with as a kid, but he couldn’t explain how they worked.

What Bernie didn’t know, and for that matter most people in the Ring of Fire didn’t know, was that Bernoulli’s equations were a way of describing the actions of large groups of air molecules that were in turn following Newton’s laws of motion. And when they had tried to integrate the two different ways of describing the same event they had, in effect, added everything up twice. The mathematicians and natural philosophers who surrounded Bernie now might have understood the complex explanation. They were still somewhat trapped by Aristotle’s assumptions but they were some really bright guys. It didn’t matter. Bernie didn’t have the science to explain it. He had seen the drawings of air flow over a wing and assumed that they were accurate. They weren’t. This didn’t mean the shape of the wing was wrong. They weren’t really inaccurate, either. Just simplified. Using the drawing out of those books for the cross-section of the wing would produce a wing that would fly quite well. Assuming, of course, that you added the ailerons and the rest of the plane.

Every day Bernie had people asking him questions that he didn’t have the answers to. They weren’t meaningless questions that didn’t really matter, like how many planets there are in the solar system. Well, most of them weren’t. The astrologers were nuts to know the locations of Neptune, Uranus and Pluto. Mostly, though, the questions were about how things worked and how to treat injuries and diseases.


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8 Responses to 1636 The Kremlin Games – Snippet 31

  1. ET1swaw says:

    Simple flow over an airfoil; wow imagine if they had to figure out how an aircraft can fly inverted (BTDT: proof by equation of this concept was an actual midterm aeronautical engineering question and I still remember the PITA 30 years later)!


  2. Doug Lampert says:

    The textbook descriptions of how an airfoil works that I remember from most of my early texts are completely wrong. The drawings get the shapes close, but the description of why it works is simply garbage, and the drawings of the airflow streamlines are even worse (they often show the air not being deflected down).

    It’s a fairly prominent example in a couple of lists I’ve seen of “things elementary and highschool physics texts get wrong”.

    Without knowing what books they’re looking at, it’s still an overwhelming favorite that the books the Russians have actually do give explanations that contradict Newton’s Laws.

  3. vikingted says:

    Looks like Bernie has to ask for a “Dummies guide to Accounting”

  4. Stan Leghorn says:

    Double entry book keeping is key to running a business. I don’t know when it became common in Italy and then was stolen and moved around, but it cannot be that long ago. It will be vital to getting an economy based on paper money running. Wonder how one of the families would react if someone cornered the market on their paper money and forclosed on them…
    And a possible “in” for women in the workplace, making accounting a “women’s” job.

  5. robert says:

    @4 Stan. You are correct. From Wikipedia:
    Double Entry Bookkeeping “was first codified in the 15th century by Luca Pacioli. In deciding which account has to be debited and which account has to be credited, the golden rules of accounting are used. This is also accomplished using the accounting equation: Equity = Assets – Liabilities. The accounting equation serves as an error detection tool. If at any point the sum of debits for all accounts does not equal the corresponding sum of credits for all accounts, an error has occurred. It follows that the sum of debits and the sum of the credits must be equal in value.”

    The only other rule that was helpful to me was “debit toward the window.” But that only worked in one classroom.

  6. dave o says:

    #4 Stan: Sorry, but you can run a small business quite well on two cash journals: receipts and payments. I was a CPA for about 40 years, and most of my clients did things that way. For that matter, that’s how the US government runs its budgeting.

  7. There is of course GAAP, generally accepted accounting principles, but as I recall — and would appreciate the cite — the requirement is that your books have to match the reporting standard for whatever government body you report to, which in the USA might be the IRS rules, or might be something else. And in this area of time, the separate page entry for special services (“bribes”) comes to mind.

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