Thinnet cables are no match for the manager’s desk job • The Register

on duty There was a time in computing when “brute force” meant more than guessing passwords while wearing a favorite hoodie. Welcome to an edition of On Call that truly brings back memories.

Today’s story comes from the era of coaxial cables and thin network. “Ben” (certainly not his name) worked on the campus of an educational institution. “We received a call that the network from a building on the edge of campus was ‘unstable,'” he recalls.

“Some machines were working, some weren’t, including the department head’s.”

A big cheese with no connectivity would never do, so Ben and a buddy grabbed some cable testers and headed for the affected spot.

“When we got to the building, we started testing next to the fine-to-fiber network converter that was feeding the building. It worked well. The further we got from the headend, the more performance degraded, until we got to the principal’s office…

“…where the problem was discovered.”

For those who never experienced the joys of thinnet (aka Thin Ethernet or Cheapernet), these were thin coaxial cables filled with BNC-T connectors, usually plugged into network cards. Before Category 5 cables became fashionable, networks frequently consisted (and in some cases still do) of lengths of RG-58 cables.

Thin cable and BNC connectors are important to our story.

“It looks like the director wanted to rearrange his office,” Ben said, “but didn’t bother calling Physical Plant to do the heavy lifting.”

Useful. Kind of.

“Obviously, when it came time to move that big tower PC under his desk, he just took it out and placed it next to where the desk was moving,” Ben recalls. “Of course, he didn’t bother to check if anything was plugged INTO this machine other than the power and video cables…”

Thus, the connectors of the two pieces of RG-58 cable plugged into the BNC-T connector were torn out. The manager only realized something was wrong when he moved his desk and saw the two sad bits of wire where his PC was. What to do? Tie them in a neat knot and hide them behind a sideboard, of course.

Sorted! Until he realized the connectivity was now sadly missing and made the call.

Ben and his friends dutifully replaced the torn connectors and reconnected the cable with a barrel connector. The computer was back on the network.

“All was well with the world again. We went back to the office wondering how People Like That™ had managed to secure permanent faculty spots. Ah good.”

Have you ever been called in to deal with an incident that could only have been the result of brute force and ignorance? Or were you the person applying unnecessary force on an innocent piece of cable? Confess everything with an e-mail to On Call. ®

Jose C. Birney