Grad School Can Be Fun

I’m working on my second Master’s degree.  I’m an academic at heart so I enjoy the disciplines of study and writing papers.  I’m also a storyteller.  Instead of taking school so seriously, I’ve chosen to have fun.  University of Phoenix is where I study so our classroom is an online threaded discussion.  Each week, the class is given two to four discussion questions.  Some of these are based on scholarly articles and others on research.  Combining answers to the discussion questions with short story writing is my way of having fun.  I guess it works for the professors because I’m carrying a 4.0 GPA.

My current class is in IT infrastructure.  One of this week’s questions was as follows:

As a manager, you are responsible for making sure the technology you use meets standards for communication and connectivity. What are some of the standards that you should be using for purchase decisions, and why are they important?

I started out answering like any other student:

These are some of the communication and connectivity-related standards I’ve been involved with:

  • IEEE 802.11b/g/n – Wireless routers in the 2.4, 3.6, and 5 GHz range must be
    certified to comply with the appropriate sections of the Institute of Electrical
    and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) 802.11 standard.
  • TIA/EIA-568-C – This standard written by Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) and Electronics Industry Alliance (EIA) establishes the standards for Ethernet
    cable, most significantly Category 5e (10BASE-T and 100BASE-TX) and Category 6
    (10BASE-T, 100BASE-TX, 1000BASE-T/1000BASE-TX, and 10GBASE-T).
  • NFPA 90A – Network cable that runs through plenums (ventilation spaces) must comply with this code published by the National Fire Protection Association. The code
    identifies the standard for how cable in plenums must react to fire.

When it came having to explain why standards conformance was important is when I got into storytelling mode.

Let me start out with a ficticious startup company, Kentucky Fried Tofu. KFT, headquartered in Sausalito, California sells cryo-packed, wing-shaped, beer-batter breaded tofu with free electric mini-fryers. They market the product to people that hate the idea of killing animals and eating them but really crave the experience of good-old fried food. The owners, Geno and Herb, rented some first floor office space on 2nd St. They were cheap, so when they bought the computers for KFT, they didn’t hire a consultant. They went to Best-Buy in Marin City.

When they got there, they split up. Geno went to get laptops and Herb got the printer and three routers. Geno was really excited because Best-Buy was selling Acer Aspire TimelineX laptops for $729 a piece and they had built-in 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi. He didn’t really know what that meant, but he heard that it was really fast. Herb’s shopping cart had three Netgear Factory Refurbished 802.11g routers and an HP 8000 OfficeJet Wireless printer. Geno was not super techie, but he figured if the laptops were 802.11n and the routers were 802.11g, that the routers wouldn’t keep up with the laptops because “n” is higher in the alphabet than “g.” Herb thought that was stupid so he grabbed some kid in a Best-Buy blue shirt named Chuck. Chuck confirmed that the laptops and routers could talk to each other but only at 802.11g speed, about 54 Mbps. Chuck recommended the Cisco Linksys E2000. It was $35 more than the Netgear router but because it was 802.11n compliant, it was able to transfer up to 300 Mbps. Chuck also told them it could handle Gigabit Ethernet. Geno and Herb didn’t really know what that was but it sounded cool.

They got things with KFT running pretty quickly. It turned out there were lots of people who cared more about not lopping off chickens’ heads than they did about cholesterol. To bolster business even further, Herb started a blog called Chix Dig Kentucky Fried Tofu at (go ahead, try it, I know you want to) that had business up to almost $18,000 per week. The boys needed to add five more employees which meant getting five more networked computers.

They were learning a little bit more about computers. One of the things they discovered was the Gigabit Ethernet that Chuck from Best-Buy told them about was network cabling, and it made accessing the Internet faster than that 802.11 Wi-Fi stuff. Geno went to to “get me some of that Ethernet.” He loved to say Ethernet. For some odd reason, it reminded him of his favorite group, Blue Öyster Cult.

Geno called a company in Corte Madera by the name of The Cable Guyz. Charlotte, one of the techs answered and asked Geno what he wanted. Geno said, “dude, I want Ethernet. Do you have any?” Charlotte said, “sure. Want me to come by and figure out how much you need?” Geno, who hadn’t quite figured out how a Cable Guy wasn’t a guy, made an appointment with Charlotte. The next morning, she rolled up in the Cable Guyz Land Rover. It was converted so the back was open to expose four huge rolls of cable in cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. Charlotte came in and introduced herself to Herb and Geno. Herb showed her around while she measured the amount of linear feet of coverage KFT could need.

She went out on the front porch of KFT with Geno and Herb and sat on the Adirondack chairs painted with pictures of bright yellow banana slugs. Charlotte had to ask, “what’s the deal with the yellow thingies on your chairs?” Herb told her that he and Geno met at UC Santa Cruz and the banana slug was the school mascot. Charlotte, originally from Poughkeepsie, NY, chuckled in her head, “only in Cali!” She took out her laptop and fired up her job estimator. Her first question was “how fast do you want your network to be?” Geno and Herb looked at each other and said “gigabit, dude!” Charlotte said, “OK, so that’s gonna be CAT 6.” The boys clearly had no idea of what she meant. Charlotte explained that there was this group of people in Piscataway, New Jersey called the Aye Triple-E (IEEE) that came up with standards for all sorts of things including network cables. “Gigabit Ethernet cable is called CAT 6.” The boys thought that was the coolest name for cable. Geno got CAT-6 as his vanity plate the following year.

“Floor or ceiling?” Geno looked at Herb and then Charlotte with that kind of head-cocked-to-the side-look that Welsh Corgis are known for. “Do you want your cables in the floor or ceiling?” clarified Charlotte. Herb explained that the office was on a concrete slab so the cables would have to be in the ceiling with the HVAC ductwork. Charlotte said, “OK, then you’ll need plenum grade cable. It’s twice as expensive as standard CAT 6.” Still corgi-like, Geno asked “what’s ‘plenum grade?’” Charlotte pointed to the yellow spool of cable. Herb said, “why does yellow cable cost more than magenta?” Charlotte went to her truck and brought back this thin book marked NFPA 90A: Standard for the Installation of Air-Conditioning and Ventilating Systems. “Fire Code” she said. “The space in your ceiling where the air flows is called a plenum. Cable that goes up there can’t catch fire until it gets to be about 700 degrees and when it does burn, it can’t give off toxic fumes.” “Dude,” said Geno. “but if it gets that hot in here we’re all gonna leave before it gets stinky.” Herb, who got it, took the $1,315 estimate from Charlotte and set up an installation appointment.

Charlotte drove the Land Rover north on the 101. There was a rib-joint/Internet café called “Meat, No Potatoes” with a sub-floor that needed 96 meters of magenta.

Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. (2009). 802.11n, IEEE Standard for Information technology—Telecommunications and information exchange between systems—Local and metropolitan area networks—Specific requirements: Part 11: Wireless LAN Medium Access Control (MAC) and Physical Layer (PHY) Specifications. New York, NY.

National Fire Protection Association. (2011). NFPA 90A: Standard for the Installation of Air-Conditioning and Ventilation Systems, 2012 Edition. Quincy, MA

Telecommunications Industry Association. (2009). Commercial Building Telecommunications Cabling Standard Set (Contains: Tia-568-C.0, Tia-568-C.1, Tia-568-C.2, Tia-568-C.3 And Tia-568-C.4 – With Addendums And Erratas). Arlington, VA.

You see, I look at it this way: My pedagogical model contains the idea that if you can present a concept in a story, you truly understand the concept. I hold storytelling in high esteem. It’s part of my heritage. I have actually refused to hire Java programmers because they could not pass the first test in my interview; storytelling. The test is based on Bruce Eckel’s seminal Java programming book, Thinking in Java. The test is simple: explain object oriented programming to a five-year-old. Some passed, others failed. True story.