After a long day of combing cable, we feel bull-headed

After a long day of combing cable, we feel bull-headed

Loose cables is an irreverent look behind the scenes at testing computer products, in particular at IDG's Infoworld lab in the US. Our insights are gleaned during the long hours spent testing, and even longer hours spent sorting through outrageous vendor claims and press releases. Some of the insights are technical, some are political, and some are just funWhile we might not be celebrities of great stature, we at loose cables would like to put the full weight of the Test Centre's star-making power behind a new brew that's destined to be on the lips of IT managers everywhere.

It's called Red Bull, and we sucked down a case of it during our Saturday work party to reorganise the lab.

Although Red Bull's narrow metallic cans look designed to hold shuttlecocks, the swells at a garden party couldn't handle what's under this pop-top: a brain-boosting combination of caffeine, vitamins, and something called taurine. Zing!

We will neither confirm nor deny the rumours making the rounds about Red Bull's libidinous effects.

But with only one day to move 200 computers - and their related data and power connections - from our old bread racks to the lab's sleek new furniture, we knew we'd need the best stimulant legally available.

Martha would tie them up with a ribbon

Although we were busy organising equipment and setting up power connections, we used outside help to do the worst of the work, keeping everyone steadily supplied with the potent potable.

One freelancer handled all 300 of our punchdowns - pulling wires out, cutting them to length, then repunching them down.

We also employed two network stylists whose job it was to "comb" the miles of cable trailing throughout the lab so they would neatly attach to our video, keyboard, and mouse (VKM) boxes.

The new racks we bought to hold the clients have two nifty design features. Their wide, floor-level shelves are on rollers and slide out easily even with hundreds of pounds of equipment on them, making it easy to access back panels.

The cases also have troughs - called panduits - on the back in which cables and wires can be laid neatly and out of sight. No more hanging gardens from the backs of PCs.

At first, our cable combers were so slow that we thought they must be immune to the effects of the Bull. When we began helping them out, however, we saw what a tedious job it was.

After the combing itself, it took three people to attach one set of cables to the VKM switch: one person to hold them up, one to feed them, and one to plug them in. We figure it took 15 hours of labour just to tidy up and attach the cables for a rack of 15 clients.

Although we still have a few racks to go, we made good progress that Saturday - with only a minor calamity or two. Perhaps it was a self-fulfilling prophecy, but one lab rat knew she was going to get hit in the head by something before the day was done. She thought it might be a monitor, but it turned out to be a power strip. A big power strip. Looks like Red Bull also has anaesthetic properties.

We still need to drop additional power poles to feed the clients and find a worthy use for the dozens of monitors we no longer need. The lab is looking sharp though, and we're eager to put those new clients to use on application-server and high-speed- backbone comparisons.

Even better, our doctor tells us there should be no permanent damage from the taurine.

A captive Comdex audience

To paraphrase Norman Mailer, "Why are we in Las Vegas?" Everyone knows the diamond in the desert isn't what it used to be. Oceans Eleven has become Treasure Island. Bouncers have been downsized in favour of "You must be this tall to ride this ride" signs.

Pushing 20 years old now, Comdex has been around longer than many of the attendees. Sure, the usual suspects (Gates and a variety pack of CEOs) still hold court with keynotes, but we can hear from these guys on the evening news.

Perhaps the personality parade of speakers is really the only thing left to keep corporate customers interested. With its trashy flea-market environment, Comdex is increasingly irrelevant to businesses. There are many more conferences better-suited for tapping an IT department's travel and entertainment budget. But even though its glamour has faded, we're not saying Comdex will cease to exist. The logical next step is turning the show into one of those year-round family entertainments that Las Vegas is increasingly known for. Plop it next to Bob Stupak's VegasWorld and Comdex will look positively elegant. Queues for cabs will still be longer than Russian bread lines, though.

PR redux

We've said this before, but Microsoft is a public-relations machine. Recently it dawned on us that some of the biggest strugglers in the technology industry have one thing in common: we don't know who their PR people are.

Here's a tip if you want to start your own high-tech giant: hire someone to stay in the media's face until we print something about you. The people who make buying decisions do a lot of reading. What they see in the technology press, combined with their own experience, forms their perception of reality.

It's like the guy who wore a clown costume to his medical-school interview just to be memorable. If you're not on the radar, then where are you? Probably burning the worthless shares from your initial public offering to stay warm.

Flooded with hype and always on deadline, we look up at whoever is making the most noise. If some of the other players in the industry were as proactive and responsive as Microsoft's PR people, they might not feel as underrepresented in the trade press.

The crew at Loose Cables can be contacted at:

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