This Old House meets George Jetson at hub of R.Fink's burrow

The Rat, like all truly well-adjusted network professionals, is a masochist. But
there's a limit to the delightful agonies in a standard work day--even the standard
workday of a network manager. So the Rat decided to install his own enterprise network at

Everyone knows that living on the bleeding edge of networking means being the first on
your block with a Fast Ethernet switch in your hall closet. However, the Rat didn't count
on a bonus: the collateral grief from installing the wiring.

His significant other reacted with horror as he drilled through walls and scattered
plaster about the burrow while pulling the Category 5, plenum-jacketed, unshielded
twisted-pair cable. The Cyberrodent had forgotten to inform her that plenum doesn't come
in decorator colors.

Even the earth-tone racetrack conduits couldn't hide all those yum-yum yellow wires
running along the spotless white baseboards. And the node numbers written in royal-blue
Magic Marker were the last straw.

The Rat's lines had to be run into a bundle in the rec room, where the hub and
management console were banished. After terminating his lines--a phrase with which the Rat
has always felt uncomfortable--he spent the rest of the weekend teaching the ratlings how
to use cable testers.

The family that uses a Time Domain Reflectometer together stays together, the Rat
always says. There's no better way to bond with your loved ones than by creating and
maintaining address tables for your family router.

However, a network with nothing on it to manage delivers no pain at all, and the Wired
One craves a console full of flashing alarms. So he reached for the Yellow Pages. He could
sense eyebrows contorting at the other end of the phone as he called appliance vendors,
asking whether their refrigerators, toaster ovens and microwaves came with Simple Network
Management Protocol extensions.

"How hard can it be to develop firmware to tell whether the refrigerator light is
on or off, anyway?" the Rat wondered. He decided to seek venture capital to fund a
line of network-friendly household durable goods--real network appliances--that could
bring the joyous agonies of high-bandwidth connectivity to everyday life at home.

The first item in development is the Network Appliance Sniffer, a refrigerator that
detects food items past expiration date and e-mails the supermarket to order backups. An
add-on module, the Alky-tel, alerts the administrator whenever there is less than a full
six-pack of beer left in the fridge; based on consumption rates, it can be set to lower or
higher alarm thresholds.

Then there's BabyView, a computer-controlled camera/microphone and thermal sensor that
monitors kids' rooms. In addition to giving the administrator an instant view of
child-created mayhem, it incorporates "smelly logic" to detect dirty diapers and
summon a technician.

The Rat already has a working model of his network-controlled dishwasher , but he's
still working out the bugs. Right now it works properly only with a redundant array of
inexpensive dishes.

He also managed to wire an old Amiga to the toaster to remote-control the brownness but
ran into problems convincing it to operate a fork to pry out stuck slices.

An even bigger engineering challenge is NetIrony, a wireless iron that sets off the
administrator's pager when the iron is left unattended. So far, the testing has ruined
most of the Rat's button-downs.

Last on the development fast track is the BrewHub, a work group Ethernet
switch-cum-coffeemaker. With all the excitement around the household LAN these days, the
Rat could use some handy caffeine.

The Packet Rat once managed networks but now spends his time ferreting out bad
packets in cyberspace.

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