back to article Superbowl blackout was a stuff-up, not Anonymous

When there was a power outage during the Superbowl, it only took minutes for someone to claim responsibility on behalf of “Anonymous”. There’s never a guarantee that anyone claiming to speak for the collective is actually doing so; and in any case, the reality turns out to be boring. According to the Wall Street Journal, the …


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  1. Chris Miller

    You have attributed conditions to villainy that simply result from stupidity - Robert A. Heinlein's Logic of Empire.

    1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

      Ah, that's where it comes from.

      I know it as 'never assume conspiracy when stupidity will do'.

      Occam's razor, I suppose.

      1. Chris Miller

        Re: Ah, that's where it comes from.

        Something very similar is known as Hanlon's Razor and is also attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Ah, that's where it comes from.

          A Slashdotter named Pig Hogger folded Hanlon's Razor in with Clarke's Third Law to come up with the profoundly true and useful:

          "Any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice".

  2. Khaptain Silver badge

    Variable Relays

    Are variable relays common ?

    I used to work in white room for a company that made relays for the home but they were all single value, high sensitivity relays.

    I can't imagine the Amperage required in a football stadium but it must be quite impressive..

    What does seem strange this is why the power would have been pulling harder than expected. They obviously new what the lights, sounds etc would pull as I imagine that they had already been through a full rehersal.. ( Unless of course someone set the relay to cut out at only a couple of microclicks above the exprected draw.)

    1. frank ly Silver badge

      Re: Variable Relays

      " ...I imagine that they had already been through a full rehersal.. ."

      Imagine all you want but I imagine that a full rehearsal costs money they weren't willing to spend. Even switching on lights and all expected power loads would be an organisational cost that was judged to be too great. I speak as someone who has, in the past, tried to get management to agree to real world test scenarios for systems testing instead of theory and dummy loads.........

      1. Khaptain Silver badge

        Re: Variable Relays

        I wonder which cost more in the end? The rehersal or the powercut ?

      2. Gene Cash Silver badge
        Thumb Down

        "a full rehearsal costs money they weren't willing to spend"

        Ding, there ya go... and you look like morons on national TV at the biggest US sporting event of the year. Way to go guys. This is why "I American-engineered it" is about the worst epithet I can think of. It's just expensive Chinese engineering. At least when the Chinese stuff breaks, I didn't spend much money on it.

        I'd say "I hope somebody's out of a job" but it'd probably be the engineer that argued for the full-up test.

        Where's my "ashamed to be an American" icon?

        1. C-N

          Re: "a full rehearsal costs money they weren't willing to spend"

          Of course, you could switch on all the lights and deep-fat fryers and even the HVAC systems; but how would you model the effect of all the added people on the HVAC systems' behavior? Hire 90,000 people to stand in as seat warmers?

          A full rehearsal does cost money they weren't willing to spend, and it wouldn't have given them the answers they needed in any case.

      3. Roger Greenwood

        Re: Variable Relays

        "full rehersal"

        The system would be fully tested, usually meaning each element would tested separately. This is common when commissioning large projects. Full rehearsal is often very difficult to simulate.

        It is also common, during testing, to set trip values low. It is then equally common to forget to set the proper values later.

        1. Richard 12 Silver badge

          Re: Variable Relays

          Plus it's equally common to have a faulty ACB anyway.

          A few years ago I blew one three times before the EC figured out it was faulty and not set wrong.

          Brought up the building, and after about half an hour one corner went dark. So we reset and tried again...

          - They don't half go with a bang when they trip.

      4. Tom 13

        Re: Variable Relays

        No, a full rehearsal is pretty much standard fare for that. You need to check the lights are hitting where they are supposed to and that the sound is up where it is supposed to be. Furthermore, the nitwit signing the national anthem said she'd done a full rehearsal so it wouldn't be lip synched like she did at the Presidential Inauguration.

        But, it was probably only full load for the stage and related equipment (probably including the billboards), and therefore well below the threshold set for the power draw. It's only after you fire up all the concession stands, and lights and heaters/air conditioners for internal hallways and bathrooms that you move into the danger zone.

        1. IglooDude

          Re: Variable Relays

          They had a regular pro (American) football game there a few weeks prior, and also IIRC a college bowl game. From a Super Bowl standpoint, they would have functioned perfectly well as very realistic rehearsals.

    2. Blofeld's Cat

      Re: Variable Relays

      "Are variable relays common ?"

      Yes, they are common in industrial control systems, and come in many different ratings from a few mA to many kA. I suspect the equipment here will be at the top end of that range.

      The calculations needed to set them up typically factor in current and time, based on the rating of the equipment or cable being protected. The system might be able to tolerate a 20% overload for several hours, but have to shut down a 200% overload almost immediately.

      Get the settings wrong and you can have a system which works perfectly for a time, and then suddenly shuts down, as appears to have happened here.

      More sophisticated systems also take into account the consequences of shutting off the power. NASA, for example, used to (and may still do) lock shut all their circuit breakers during a launch.

      1. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: Variable Relays

        Blofeld's Cat, When I was designing rocket avionics I never put circuit protection devices in certain areas. Cutting the power would have been as catastrophic as toasting some wires. It was always possible that the fuse/circuit breaker was faulty leaving a million dollar hole in the ground.

        Testing the stadium under full load would have been difficult. All sorts things might get left out from food warmers to the legions of laptops plugged in from the press. It certainly could have been estimated better.

      2. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Variable Relays

        "More sophisticated systems also take into account the consequences of shutting off the power. NASA, for example, used to (and may still do) lock shut all their circuit breakers during a launch"

        Also known as "battle mode" on military equipment.

    3. Naughtyhorse

      Re: Variable Relays

      protection relay settings will be matched to the CT being used to measure the line current, it's quite easy to misconfigure this (in the same way it's quite easy to login as root and walk away from the terminal! - easy, but very embarrasing)

      If the relay was expecting 5A as a full scale current, but the CT provided 10A at full scale, then the relay would trip much earlier than expected.

  3. Local G

    Get outta here!

    Fox was responsible for the outage. It let them sell tens of millions more in commercials. D'uh.

    1. James O'Shea Silver badge

      Re: Get outta here!

      Interesting. Fox, eh? And here I was under the impression that it was CBS which was carrying the game. Wait... it _was_ CBS.

      1. Tom 13

        Re: Wait... it _was_ CBS.

        Hence the rabid comment from the Fox hater who assumes everyone shares his opinion.

        1. Local G

          Re: Friends of Fox has a chapter at el reg.

          Who'da thunk it?

  4. scarshapedstar

    Sounds like another Obama administration cover-up. Benghazi 2.0!!!!111!1!111

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Best part of the game

    American football is best avoided.

    1. Peter Clarke 1

      Re: Best part of the game

      It could happen for 3/4 of a F1 race an no-one would notice, just keep showing the same lap over and over again.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Best part of the game

        Well that's okay then as most F1 races are held during the day...

  6. Mike Pellatt

    Incorrect sp[specification and/or commissioning of protection equipment is a well-understood issue, particularly after one instance of this led to 20% of London being blacked-out 10 years ago. It took 2-3 hours to fully recover from this incident, and left many Underground passengers stranded. Needless to say, that (and another incident in Birmingham) led to a detailed analysis of the lessons to be learnt.

    The engineers who specified the Superbowl system would have done well to have read - whilst it applies to distribution switching equipment, not installation switching equipment, there are still useful lessons there.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This whole incident effected me in now way whatsoever

    1. Marvin the Martian

      "effected me in now way"

      Well now, are you sure it didn't affect your spelling?

  8. VaalDonkie

    Too bad... didn't happen during the Beyonce Lipsynchin' Striptease Extravaganza.

  9. bitten

    correctly configured

    It's even more likely that the breaker was correctly configured and that the system got not overly critically overloaded as usual

  10. Coldwind104


    Given that Anonymous appears to be nothing more than a name adopted by every teen hacker who thinks (or would like us to think) they're doing something politically subversive, is it accurate to refer to them as a 'collective'?

    I'm not convinced there's any formal organisation, or even unity of purpose, there at all - at least beyond their determination not to actually find out anything about Guy Fawkes.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Collective?

      I would also argue that because of the way they are setup, anyone who decides they are "Anonymous" speaks for Anonymous, which means that you can get anti-abortionists claiming to be in the same organisation as anti-anti-abortionists, for a real world example.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So how do they know the guy who "misconfigured" it wasn't working under cover for Anonymous?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      He couldn't have been part of Anonymous; electricians that operate this kind of capacity are highly-trained adults, not some kid masturbating to Japanese cartoon porn and pictures of cats in their mother's basement.

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