Dario sighed, placing the call on hold to answer another. "Network support, Dario speaking."
"Hi, this is Seth," the caller began, as though Dario knew who this "Seth" was. "My computer isn't working today. All morning, nothing." Specificity clearly wasn't one of the caller's strengths.
Before Dario could ask for more information, another call came in. "Hold please," he said, answering yet another support call.
The new caller introduced herself and complained of an inability to pull a file from the network. In the background, Dario could hear Seth complaining "no, he put me on hold, I'll find out in a minute!" All of the calls were coming from the same department.
The Network Layout
In theory, the undisclosed department of the government where Dario worked (let's call it the "Department of Government") had a pretty decent network setup. In practice, the situation wasn't so rosy. The year was 1996, and Dario was babysitting said network – and it was a very fussy baby. Seldom did a day go by without a user losing connectivity to one of the servers.
The network was laid out like so:
- A thick 10Base5 "backbone" cable, with intrusive taps that provided them with AUI drops. The tap would pierce the 10Base5 cable and had an AUI connector on the other side. From there, an AUI cable could connect to the NIC on the back of a server.
- Several 10Base2 hubs. There were a dozen or so, each of which had roughly 20 computers on it.
- The occasional fiber link to other buildings.
And with no false ceiling or floor to run the cables through, cables were draped from the ceilings with taps dangling like party streamers for the worst party you've ever been to. For each new system, Dario would have to run a cable down from the ceiling, cut it, add a T connector, hook the connector up to the 10Base2/BNC connector on the computer, go back up with the cable, run it to the next machine, and so on, ultimately ending the line in a terminator. And throughout all of it, Dario had to keep in mind the minimum distance between computers, the maximum cable lengths, etc., as required by the 802.3 standard.
90% of the issues could be fixed by the obvious; going to the user's desk, looking around, and identifying what's missing from the picture. Had someone unplugged the T connector from the NIC? Maybe; the cleaning crew would do this fairly often for whatever reason. Had the terminator been removed or pulled off? Maybe. They had a tendency to fall off or disappear altogether, and Dario never found out why.
This issue was different, though. Dario had a dozen users lose their access! He packed up his toolbox, hooked one thumb in his belt, and marched into the accounting department's area.
The Troubleshooting Process
"I'm Dario and I'm here to fix the network," he announced, embarrassed that he'd accidentally said it in a low voice like a superhero. "*ahem* I mean, I'll be checking all of your computers, but I'll try to stay out of everyone's way."
OK, time for computer #1. Had the cleaning crew unplugged it? No. The connection from the computer to the T connector was fine, no signs of damage to the cable. Second, third, fourth, and so on – same deal. Just to be sure, he verified the terminator was there. No signs of distress.
Meanwhile, Dario was overhearing the grief that his users were experiencing. With no network access, they couldn't process payments. Without being able to process payments, they were even later than usual on some already wildly overdue payments. "No, we have IT here right now, but I don't think they'll be able to fix it," one of the users said into her phone loudly. "I know," she continued, "yes, I know," she said, pausing. "Look, I can't help you until our network issues are resolved." Every time Dario looked up, he'd catch a stink eye from one of the accountants.
Without any user confidence, and vendors being driven up a wall since they wouldn't get paid while the network issues persisted, Dario worked as quickly as he could. He switched the segment to another port on the same hub, still nothing. He replaced the hub entirely, still no change. Well, except that the users had begun fashioning shivs from whatever they had on their desks.
There was no other option – they had to call Carl, the cabling guy. Carl answered his voice with a kind of sinister cheerfulness; the kind that an overacting movie villain would have after successfully luring the hero into a trap. "I'm on another call," he said. "And I'll have to charge extra for the rush job. And for bringing some of my guys over to help. And for some extra hardware and cables. But don't worry, we'll have you up and running again in no time."
Fine by me, Dario thought, since we won't be able to pay the invoice until our network works anyway.
While he waited for Carl to arrive, Dario figured he could check the computers again; specifically the one that belonged to Helga. Helga was a very large woman, and messy. Her desk had stacks of papers, books, office supplies, wrappers, and folders, most of which were covered under a thick layer of dust. Worse, the mess had extended onto the floor under her desk, which is why it was the only desk that Dario hadn't given a thorough check previously. The blight cloud that surrounded her desk was why Dario had given it the least thorough check before. Down on all fours, coughing and rubbing his eyes as his lungs filled with dust, he started excavating Helga's computer.
Helga's system had its network cable securely attached. All that for nothing, he thought as he stood up and dusted himself off. Following the cable to the T connector, he found that that was securely connected as well. About two inches from the connector, though, the cable was damaged. Odd, Dario thought, this looks... intentional. Going in for a closer look, he found a bundle of 15 or so copper strands tightly twisted to make a thicker cable. Following that cable led him back to her desk. The cable was connected to an ancient-looking AM/FM radio.
From Miles Away
"Helga, do you know what this is about," Dario asked, pointing to the cable.
"Oh, well, you see, I brought in this radio so I could listen to music while I work."
"And...?" Dario pressed.
"And somehow the antenna came loose, and I lost it."
"And the reception wasn't very good then."
Dario didn't speak, he just waited for her to continue.
"Actually, no reception at all! So Johnny fixed it and now I can listen to radio stations from miles away! It's incredible!" Dario's expression revealed that he wasn't as impressed as she'd expected.
So Helga and her, uh, let's say "resourceful" friend, were using the network infrastructure as a giant radio antenna. And sure, it took down the network, but you haven't heard "Forever Young" until you've heard it via a building-sized antenna!
By simply disconnecting Helga's cable, everyone else was able to work again. Dario called off the visit from Carl the cabling guy, and went back to his desk to decompress. The first course of action? Typing up and distributing a memo explicitly forbidding use of network cabling for purposes other than... network cabling. No extended-range antenna, no jumping rope, no hanging clothes to dry, nothing.