Nerd Guru

Because technical people need good soft skills to get ahead.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Troubleshooting Techniques: Wrath of Khan Anecdote

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is generally considered to be the best film in the series. The first movie was little more than a knee jerk reaction by Paramount Pictures to the success of Star Wars. It featured kooky light blue jumpsuit uniforms and thinly combined two recycled plots from the original series. Before it really got started, the first film almost grounded the entire franchise, but The Wrath of Khan changed that. It fixed many of the visually distracting aspects of its predecessor and told an original story that was an extension of a popular episode from the television run, resurrecting a classic villain in the process. You may already have known all this and even if you did not, you are probably asking yourself, “What does this have to do with troubleshooting?” A lot, it turns out.

As the film starts, Khan - a genetically engineered evil genius portrayed by Ricardo Mantalban - escapes his exile on a dead planet blaming our hero, James T. Kirk (William Shatner, of course), for the passing of his wife while they were marooned. Seeking revenge, Khan commandeers the starship Reliant, a member of the Federation fleet that Kirk serves. He then sets a trap by sending a distress signal, knowing Kirk and the Enterprise will respond. Thinking the Reliant to be a friendly ship, Kirk is completely surprised when he is attacked and only when the Enterprise is seemingly disabled does Khan reveal himself. He then demands that Kirk hand over the plans for the Genesis Device, a terraforming apparatus that can be utilized as a weapon of mass destruction. With the lives of his crew in his hands and facing a brilliant madman, what does Kirk do? He applies classic troubleshooting techniques.

At this critical point, Kirk realizes the three elements that are critical to any troubleshooting situation. The first is knowledge. He possesses an understanding of how starships work that Khan does not, which he can use to his advantage. Next is access. Based on his credentials as an Admiral, Kirk has security clearance that others do not that gives him a wider array of choices with which to remedy his predicament. The final element is creativity. Taking into account the first two elements, Kirk comes up with a solution that is out of the norm.

If you are a Star Trek fan, you are aware of what happened next. Kirk knows that each ship in the star fleet contains a security access prefix code that controls who can issue instructions to each ships computer system. He uses his heightened status within the star fleet military to obtain this code for Reliant. Finally, after obtaining the code, he uses it to send Reliant instructions to lower its shields, enabling Kirk and the Enterprise to launch a successful surprise counterattack. This forces Reliant to retreat and allows Kirk to escape for the second half of the movie. In the Director’s Edition of The Wrath of Khan, Kirk later says, “We’re alive only because I knew something about these ships that he didn’t.” Knowledge, access, and creativity are all fundamental pieces of troubleshooting demonstrated nicely in this example.


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posted by Pete Johnson @ 9:10 PM   0 comments

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