I am just looking for the meaning of "star" in this property


When we learned about BLP in class, one of my classmates decided to email Dr. Bell and ask the question. Below is the response we got.

Too bad you haven't happened on the couple of talks I've given on old war stories.

During the oil embargo of 1972, was it?, I was driving an hour to work every day, from Worcester MA to Bedford. One's mind wanders.

As I was driving down the slope on I-495 towards the Rte. 2 exit, I was thinking about the analogy Len and I were using to build up a "mathematical model", namely books and written documents. And in my stupor, I suddenly realized that electronic documents weren't like printed documents in the sense that marginalia were obvious. Changes to the document proper weren't.

When I got to work, I rushed into our office, pulling off my coat and drew the information flow picture with subjects at the middle latitude and a high object and a low object. I didn't know what the [sic] call the don't-let-subjects-open-two-objects-simultaneously-reading-high-and-writing-low. So, old mathematician that I was, I just scribbled "*-property" at the top. We talked excitedly for a little while, then one of us (lost in the mists of time) said to the other, "you know, if we don't change the name now, we'll be stuck with it." We couldn't think of a better, more intuitive name, so we left it *-property.

Our task lead was Steve Lipner and he hated it. When we started the Multics Interpretation, we offered to rename it NWD for no-write-down. And he said (and I quote) "I will defend to the death the use of *-property. With an asterisk." We nominated that for quote of the week and put it on our wall.

And later in life, it amused me that databases had trouble indexing the term *-property (when the DBMS used * as the wild card). Often inserted as "star-property."

That's it. Just couldn't think of a good, descriptive name.

Same kind of story for the "tranquility principle." Had to call it something. That was the best we could come up with.

So now you know.


The asterisk is also called a "star". I'm not sure there is any deep mystery there.

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