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Designing the Death Star - Input Junkie
April 29th, 2011
10:15 am

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Designing the Death Star
At this point, I like to think the single point of failure (possibly multiple single points of failure) was put in by utilitarian (it's worthwhile for the few to die for the many) engineer-architects, possibly enslaved or at least trapped into their work.

These single points of failure were sold to their pointy-haired bosses as a way of saving money by not having redundancy and safety measures.

Hubris could also be involved-- a belief that the other side isn't able to get our blueprints and/or is too stupid to understand them.

And speaking of time and change and hubris.... what would war and diplomacy look like if keeping secrets were effectively impossible?

This entry was posted at http://nancylebov.dreamwidth.org/480690.html. Comments are welcome here or there. comment count unavailable comments so far on that entry.

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From:madfilkentist
Date:April 29th, 2011 02:28 pm (UTC)
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In a totalitarian system it isn't safe to protest, so even engineers who had bought into the line about "the requirements of imperial security" probably figured it was better to shut up, particularly after those who didn't shut up either were ignored or mysteriously stopped coming to work.
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From:rysmiel
Date:April 29th, 2011 09:49 pm (UTC)
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Is Vader more likely to do Very Bad Things to someone who points out security holes or someone who hides them ?
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From:xiphias
Date:April 29th, 2011 02:33 pm (UTC)
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My wife believes that the single point of failure was a known problem, and that what Artoo smuggled out of the Death Star was not simply the plans, but also the engineering and QA database and tech discussions. The rebels didn't have enough time to do the kind of full analysis that you'd expect would be necessary to turn up that problem on their own -- she thinks that the rebels just looked through the "closed" bug reports, and looked for something that would be exploitable.

So, the reactor needed a vent port, which makes a point of vulnerability. But it WAS ray-shielded, so someone clearly knew that it WAS a vulnerable point. And surface defenses were placed to make sure that no capital ship could get close enough to do a particle or torpedo attack.

She's sold me on this notion: for whatever reason, it's necessary for Star Wars Universe reactors to be able to vent to space. If this venting doesn't happen, the reactor blows up. If you shove stuff INTO the vent, the reactor blows up even WORSE, because it's like the reactor did the opposite of venting.

You can't particle shield the vent, because, if you did, it wouldn't be a vent any more. Whatever it is that the vent is venting would be blocked.

So they did whatever they could.

I don't really think of it as a design failure. I think it was an actual limitation of the technology, and that the Empire did the best they could.
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From:nancylebov
Date:April 29th, 2011 02:43 pm (UTC)
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That's reasonable, though less emotionally satisfying than my theories.

I assume there's some technical reason why you couldn't have a flickering particle shield that would let particles out, but never leave an interval long enough for a ship to get in.

Does your wife post that sort of thing anywhere where I might read it?
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From:madfilkentist
Date:April 29th, 2011 03:13 pm (UTC)
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I'd wonder why they couldn't add a sharp S-curve that would keep spaceships (and meteors) from getting in.
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From:xiphias
Date:April 29th, 2011 04:01 pm (UTC)
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No; on April 1, a couple decades ago now, she put it into the quality assurance/bug report database at Lotus. As a Class 1/Security Vulnerability report. And included the entire followup discussion of how serious a security hole this was, and how it could be patched without losing functionality.

Ray shielding and placing it at the end of a long trench were deemed appropriate measures, and the she marked the bug report CLOSED/RESOLVED.
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From:xiphias
Date:April 29th, 2011 04:03 pm (UTC)
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Um. I'm wrong. Aparently, Lis DID put it online, and Selinite found it and linked to it.
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From:selenite
Date:April 29th, 2011 03:11 pm (UTC)
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From:madfilkentist
Date:April 29th, 2011 03:14 pm (UTC)
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I posted my comment above before reading your post. Really. :)
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From:sodyera
Date:April 29th, 2011 07:41 pm (UTC)
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I'd already posted my answer on the Overthink site; basically the D.S. design started from a much simpler design fractal that the original designer(s) sold the Empire as a simple base design that could be expanded just about infinitely, and as proof, (WHAM!) they designed a whole space station out of it. But on that economy of scale, somebody somewhere resorted to the old cut & paste technique to save time and a flaw crept in that made it all the way into the final build. And this flaw was what the Rebellion was looking for, whether they knew it existed or not. That led to Princess Leia's downloading the blueprints into R2D2 and so on.

Thank you for pointing me to this site; it's been an incredible source of geek giggles.
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From:sodyera
Date:April 29th, 2011 07:55 pm (UTC)

To answer the question:

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Q: What would war and diplomacy look like if keeping secrets were effectively impossible?

A: Telepathy & mind-crafting, which is right up Jedi Street from Sith Row and the corresponding corridors of control and power. I believe The Force was a game being played on a much bigger scale than was originally presented. A story arc in The Clone Wars series covered a small patch of it: The Force is presented as a transcendental element behind the creation of Life, the Universe & Everything and manifests on a macro-universal scale, which common society and technology have yet to take seriously (much like this society's approach to Pyramid Power & such). Those who really know what's going on; i.e., the Jedi & the Sith; are effectively playing with the galaxy's control rods and having effects beyond what their physical presence would suggest in six movies.

To Anakin & Obi Wan it was all just a dream they had in a crippled spacecraft. But Anakin was given a preview of his future (which was since wiped) and Obi Wan conferenced with the reconstituted essence of Qui Gon Jin.
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From:captain_button
Date:April 30th, 2011 01:22 am (UTC)
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I'd wonder if it is really possible to eliminate every possible vulnerability in anything that big and complex. The designers didn't think fighters would be threat, and they probably wouldn't have been if they didn't know that one trick.

But I do like the idea that they just found some engineer's warning about that and a dismissal of it by some boss who didn't want his project module coming in behind schedule. Even if Vader is more forgiving of delays than the Emperor, that probably isn't saying much.

Regarding captive engineers, I think in World War II part of breaking the Enigma code was help from Poles who worked in the factory or something.
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From:madfilkentist
Date:May 1st, 2011 01:46 pm (UTC)
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A few months ago I read a biography of Turing, which discussed Enigma in detail. I don't remember anything about factory workers, but it mentioned that Enigma could have added one more level of sophistication at little or no cost that would have made the code much harder to crack, but the Germans didn't bother, presumably considering it unnecessary.
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