The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress

On the DGML, Mark McFadden once noted that in Robert A. Heinlein's novel The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, there is an improvement over the classic OSS and DG cell system. Manuel Garcia O'Kelly, an information systems troubleshooter in the novel, describes it in the passage below.

Take same cells, arrange in open pyramid of tetrahedrons. Where vertices are in common, each bloke knows one in adjoining cell — knows how to send message to him, that's all he needs. Communications never break down because they run sideways as well as up and down. Something like a neural net. It's why you can knock a hole in man's head, take chunk of brain out, and not damage thinking much. Excess capacity, messages shunt around. He loses what was destroyed but goes on functioning. [—-] (Anybody who thinks it's easy to sketch one hundred twenty-one tetrahedrons, a five-level open pyramid, clear enough to show relationships is invited to try!)

Presently I said, "Look at base sketch. Each vertex of each triangle shares self with zero, one or two other triangles. Where shares one, that's it's link, one direction or both — but one is enough for a multipli-redundant communication net. On corners, where sharing is zero, it jumps to right to next corner. Where sharing is double, choice is again right-handed.

"Now it works with people. Take fourth level, D-for-dog. This vertex is comrade Dan. No, let's go down one to show three levels of communication knocked out — level E-for-easy and pick Comrade Egbert. "Egbert works under Donald, has cellmates Edward and Elmer, has three under him, Frank, Fred, and Fatso … but knows how to send message to Ezra on his own level but not in his cell. He doesn't know Ezra's name, face, address or anything — but has a way, phone number probably, to reach Ezra in emergency.

"Now watch it work. Casimir, level three, finks out and betrays Charlie and Cox in his cell, Baker above him, and Donald, Dan and Dick in subcell — which isolates Egbert, Edward, and Elmer, and everybody under them.

"All three report it — redundancy, necessary to any communication system — but follow Egbert's yell for help. He calls Ezra. But Ezra is under Charlie and is isolated, too. No matter, Ezra relays both messages through _his_ safety link, Edmund. By bad luck Edmund is under Cox, so he also passes it laterally, through Enwright … and that gets it past burned-out part and it goes up through Dover, Chambers, and Beeswax, to Adam, front office … who replies down other side of pyramid, with lateral pass on E-for-easy level from Esther to Egbert and on to Ezra and Edmund. These two messages, up and down, not only get through at once but in _way_ they get through, they define to home office exactly how much damage has been done and where. Organization not only keeps functioning but starts repairing itself at once."

DG can be played as if this system is in place without apparent changes; the people in the field don't need to be aware of the true structure. In fact, they should be encouraged to believe that the classic OSS structure is in use. In reality, Fred, Frank and Farrah are in the third level ("C") and report to Boris, but they think he's Eduardo. Not everyone in the cell structure is an active field agent, most are friendlies who can be depended on to forward messages.

Joseph Camp stated that Heinlein's novel was in fact the inspiration for DG's cell structure during the 1994 re-org, simplified for humans without an AI.


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