• David Moore

One Token Ring to Ruin All Mankind


Firstly, apologies to Lord Of The Rings fans. I've never read it and I just thought the title above sounded good :-)


This is a little story about poor communication and new technology. Quite comfy bedfellows for many years now it seems.

Back in the mid 80s I was working for a large bank who had just installed the latest in network technology - A Token Ring Network.

In the late 90s I met up with an old work mate from that bank and through light-hearted conversation and reminiscing found out that I had been accused, but never confronted, about deliberately crashing the Token Ring Network.

To say I was shocked was an understatement. I couldn't believe that anyone would think I would do such a thing.

To be fair I was young and a bit of an arse, but my work ethic was strong and I'd never intentionally do anything to get myself in trouble.

No-one had said anything to me at the time and I certainly was not deliberately crashing the network. I don't even recall having a workstation on that network.

In those days in that environment the Token Ring Network had been added to the other networking that was going on.

It was in the climate controlled computer room but not outside where we had our workstations at which we did our coding.

I only ever went into the computer room to execute compiled and linked code on the target machines. (Olivetti Super Minis in those days - uninspiring grey boxes about waist height, no wonder Google search produces no results).


NOTE: A Token Ring Network is like a daisy chain. Data only flows in one direction around the network and the loop must be closed for the data to flow.

As my friend and I discussed this further I tried to find out how this accusation came about and, as we did, I worked out how in fact it was me crashing the network!!

I couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe how clueless I'd been and why nobody decided to "clue me up".

So what happened was this...

The token ring was installed and it had lots of shiny outlets around the computer room and various other places in the data center that I never visited.

I say shiny outlets because, strangely enough, the connectors chosen were quite aesthetically pleasing - shiny aluminum with equally shiny screw on aluminum caps.

These things had just shown up in our computer room with no explanation, no indication as to how they worked, or if they were even up and running yet. Our systems weren't going to use them. It was for some future use of which we were also not informed...well I wasn't.

No I am a curious soul. My mother would berate me for being a "fiddler".

I had to touch and investigate things and in this environment that was my domain, these new shiny things needed investigation.

Occasionally I'd have to wait on my own for things to be loaded onto machines while I was in the computer room. So the fiddler in me investigated the look and feel of these new plugs, that didn't seem to be doing anything anyway, and as a nervous habit (one of many I had and still have mind you) I would unscrew these lovely shiny caps and replace them.

It felt good. To me they were the Fidget Spinner of the 80s.

I was totally unaware, until tens of years later, that every time I did that I was breaking the loop of the Token Ring and bringing the whole thing down.

It would only be momentary, as I always replaced the cap and the people affected were far off elsewhere in the building so I never heard the screams and laments of a network going down.

I was horrified when I worked this out and wondered why we, the employees had never been told how this worked and why not to touch it.

I wondered why there wasn't a sign on the sockets saying "don't touch".

I wondered why the sockets were so appealing and in plain sight. Surely something so fragile and critical to network operation should have been hidden behind some kind of panel?!?

It made no sense to me that somebody would implement such a fragile system and not even bother to communicate the few basics that would help guard against its fragility.

So, I confess. I was the Phantom network crasher.

But in my defense, I didn't know. I should have, but no-one told me.

I am guessing these days things are a bit better, you know, with all the OH&S stuff going on.

But is it really?

It is probably worth having think about what fragile technology you've implemented and just assumed people know how to use or avoid.

Cheers,

David

#networking #communication

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