Laugh Date: Wednesday, February 21, 2018

What's Inside

Best of RAH:
Take Us to the Promised LAN

by Dave Bealer

This commentary first appeared in the January 1993 issue of Random Access Humor. The version you are about to read, which was edited for brevity, was published in the September 1994 issue of Network News.

Copyright © 1993-94 Dave Bealer, All Rights Reserved.

Every year since 1985 has been touted by industry pundits as "The Year of the Network." Now, networks are everywhere. Calling 1994 "The Year of the Network" is kind of like calling it "The Year of the Automobile." You've either got one or you wish you did.

Everyone today knows that LANs are the solution to everything from payroll to the common cold. What most people don't know is how all this network mania started.

The OSI from ISO

Way back in the 1970s the International Sadists Organization (ISO), located in Paris, France, noticed that it had an image problem. For years people had gazed in awe at the mighty computing machines run by serious men in white laboratory coats. But suddenly, some upstarts were actually building "personal computers" in their basements and garages. In response to this threat to their technical sovereignty, the ISO formulated the Operational Sadistic Interface (OSI). Obviously the ISO had a lot to learn about palindromes.

Basically, the OSI was about networks. The theory was that if some twerp was going to make computers themselves easy to use, a good way to make computers impossible to understand was to make it necessary to hook all the computers together. Cleverly avoiding the more simple single-level networks, the ISO adopted the layer principle, which has worked so well for Betty Crocker.

The layers of the OSI are as follows: Physical, Data-link, Transport, Hysterical, Devonian, Triassic and Application. Geologists search through the layers of network sediment to find the fossils buried within: Acoustically coupled modems, S-100 computers, CP/M, Ethernet (Oops! Sorry...that one is still alive and kicking), the Timex Sinclair and the Apple Lisa.

All of these creatures of the computing world failed at networking in one way or another. All of them except ethernet, which has been successful as a species for a long time, even if it hasn't changed much. Ethernet is the horseshoe crab of network technology.

LAN Logic

Three major types of LAN exist: Ethernet, Arcnet and Token Ring.

Ethernet. This one almost never got off the ground because users kept passing out from ether fumes until a reliable method of sealing the cables was found. Ethernet has the advantage of having been around forever, so it has been made to work, however unwillingly, with a wide range of computing platforms.

Arcnet. This type of network, which is inexpensive and quite serviceable for small workgroups, is especially preferred by welders.

Token Ring. Token Ring was created by J.R.R. Token, the celebrated "Lord of the Ring." A little known, interesting fact is that J.R.R. Token is the husband of Madeline Token, the Secretary of Vaporware Corp. Token Ring is popular with large installations because response time is not significantly degraded when more stations are added. Of course it couldn't get much slower.

Let's Get Physical

The signals generated by all logical LAN formats must travel between stations on the the network by way of cables. Four major types of cabling are used in LANs, each designed for a specific audience:

Coaxial Cable. Coax is familiar to most people as the same kind of cable which brings Cable TV into their homes. Coaxial cable creates some unique opportunities for the future, such as a single coaxial link which could bring both a network connection and "The Brady Bunch" to a single high definition monitor. Coax allows fast data transfer and sports shielding, which reduces interference from other signal sources like coffee makers, sun lamps, Game Boys, and other common office equipment.

Unshielded Twisted-pair (UTP). Often mistaken for plain telephone wire by repair people and for Twizzlers by children, UTP is cheaper than coax but offers nearly the same data transfer rates. Because it lacks shielding, UTP appeals to networkers who like to live dangerously.

Shielded Twisted-pair (STP). Similar to UTP but with shielding, STP is preferred by organizations that practice safe networking.

Fiber-optic Cable. The fastest of all cable alternatives, fiber-optic cable is sealed so squeamish users won't see the unspeakable things being done to the light within.

LAN Topologies

The cables which carry the signals in a LAN cannot be randomly laid out as the network is built, even though that is inevitably the way it will appear. A lot of agonizing goes into the design of the logical layout, or topology, of a new network. Some of this agonizing is even justified.

There are three major network cabling topologies: Star, Daisy-chain and Bit Bucket. No matter which topology is planned, the network almost always ends up with a Bit Bucket topology.

Network Operating Systems

Every LAN requires a network operating system (NOS) in order to function. Operating systems (OSs) such as MS-DOS and OS/2 (which rarely operates) are not able to access devices on another machine in a network -- although they do have the advantage of occasionally accessing data which has no origin on Earth.

This is where the NOS comes in. By collaborating with the device drivers for the Network Interface Card (NIC) in the user's computer, the NOS tricks the OS into thinking that the hard disk in Fred's PC down the hall is really the Q: drive in the user's machine. Of course, PC operating systems are among the more gullible pieces of software you will ever encounter. They are quite forgetful as well, even to the point of misplacing disk drives that really are connected to the machine in which they "operate."

A LAN in Every Pot

So what does the future of networking hold? Will Ethernet survive into the true Cyberage? Perhaps one day mankind will network itself into one gigantic, communal intelligence. When that happens, we may finally solve one of the ancient riddles that has plagued the great thinkers since Socrates: how many system administrators can fit on the head of a 24-pin dot matrix printer?


Dave Bealer is a fifty-something mainframe systems programmer who works with CICS, z/OS and all manner of nasty acronyms at one of the largest heavy metal shops on the East Coast. He shares a waterfront townhome in Pasadena, MD. with a cat who annoys him endlessly as he assiduously avoids writing for and publishing Random Access Humor. Dave can be reached via e-mail at:


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