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Count the Screws

This week I’m doing network cabling in our new building, which is due to open in September. While my deep-seated mistrust of contractors meant that I wouldn’t let the project manager use our electrical contractors for the job, we did ask them to to the conduits and containment for the cabling, since some of it is shared with the electrics via compartmented trunking.

Here’s a quick test for you: how many screws have the contractors used to secure this backbox to the wall?

If you answered ZERO, you are correct! There are no screws holding this backbox on (the brass screw at the top-right is only to secure an earthing wire). The only reason it isn’t on the floor is the loosely coupled metal tubing that feeds into it. Metal tubing that had no draw wire, I might add.

I expect this to be only the first of many demonstrations of why we didn’t let them do the whole job.

Stripped

See this? This is yet another in the long list of reasons why I don’t let contractors do any network cabling for me:

For some reason, the moron fitting this cable has stripped the outer sheath a good 15cm away from the termination. That’s 7 layers of white electrical tape underneath the cable tie, by the way. Oh well, at least it’s inside some tubing to keep it safe… NO, WAIT, the tubing hasn’t been cut properly and has a sharp jagged edge. Genius.

Also, bonus points for only installing a single socket module in a double faceplate. Only morons fit single sockets.

The Duplicity of Port 8

Shortly after the Mystery of Port 11, came the tale of Port 8. I first came across Port 8 in our Theatre. Then I came across it again in one of the music practice rooms. The two being in the same building, this was clearly Wrong. With a capital W.

Only one of them was live. This building has very few network ports, and to save money, the cheapskate contractors only sprung for a 16-port patch panel, which is full and has every port patched. So where is the additional port?

Did you spot where it is? Here’s a closer view:

Read More…

The Mystery of Port 11

One of the hallmarks of school network infrastructure is that it’s often installed by contractors who specialise in delivering, shall we say, less than average value.

Either the school has so little money to commit to infrastructure projects that they end up with the bottom of the barrel, or the contractors will simply pull one over on the school as they often lack staff with sufficient skill to properly evaluate the finished job. I have yet to find a contractor I’m happy with, so as was the policy at my previous school, I undertake as much infrastructure work as possible in-house.

This week I finally got fed up with not having a list of which room each network port was in. The vast majority of it was installed before my time, so large parts of it were still a mystery. Some of it still is. There is a mysterious port 3 in one of the network cabinets that disappears into the ceiling, and apparently never leaves. My Linkrunner reports it is 41.7m long and has nothing connected to the other end. I have searched the entire building and cannot find port 3 anywhere; the numbering jumps from 2 to 4 between adjacent rooms.

Port 11, in the Humanities block, is a mystery that has now been solved. This building is the newest in the school, and the only one with a map handily left by the contractors showing where each port is. Or at least, where each port is supposed to be. They didn’t really test most of them either, but still, it’s the thought that counts. Port 11 was marked as being on the rear wall of the cookery room, but the entire wall is covered with fitted cabinets and a network port was nowhere to be found. After a thorough search of the area, including the other side of the wall, I sat down and pondered the fate of my errant extra port; a rare delicacy in a building notoriously short of networking, and one I didn’t want to overlook.

Then I spotted two holes in the corner of the suspended ceiling, right above the cabinets. Holes exactly the size of cable trunking. I lifted a ceiling tile to investigate… Read More…

Defenestration

If I ever meet the imbecile who did this to my network cabling, I will probably try to throw them out of a window. This is the reason I will never, ever, trust building contractors.

This is the woeful sight that greets me in the comms rooms on the top floor of the newest building, which opened in 2007. Cat5e ethernet, fibre, and fire alarm cable, all emerging directly from the concrete floor. The end of the ducts were poured over, meaning I can never run additional cabling to the sadly-lacking floors below. Every time I have to go into this room and see this, a deep boiling anger courses through my veins. It’s taken months for me to be able to master my rage long enough to hold a camera steady to take a photo.

WHY WOULD ANYONE IN THEIR RIGHT MIND DO THIS??

Testing

If there was one thing I could rely on in my last school, it was that no problem was ever down to the infrastructure cabling.

The school’s network cabling had been done in house for years before I started there, and it was there that Bond taught me the fine art of Cat5e. I don’t remember us ever having an infrastructure cabling problem, except for the time it was chewed through by glis glis.

That meant that when I moved to my current school, I immediately decreed we would not be using contractors again any time soon, since I could take care of it and know I was doing a good job. This in turn led to me becoming intimately acquainted with several loft areas of the school over the summer, and more importantly, the purchase of my first Fluke Microscanner kit. At nearly £600, it was an expensive purchase, but worth every penny; I view it as an essential for anyone who takes network cabling even half seriously. If you can’t trust the cabling, you can’t trust the network.

Which is why I have subsequently become infuriated by the fact that the contractors who previously installed network cabling at the school clearly did not have one.

In fact, they did not appear to have a testing tool of any kind. It turns out that I should have decreed that any of our previous cabling contractors who ever showed their faces again on site would be repeatedly stabbed in the eyes with an IDC punchdown tool. I’ve already had to re-terminate patch panels in two separate buildings after discovering that they hadn’t been terminated properly, a fault that not only demonstrates utter incompetence, but is also impossible to miss if you use even a basic continuity tester.

I am the Angry Technician. I am a professional, and take my job seriously. That is why when I install cabling, I GODDAMN TEST IT.

Just enough

A prominent feature of the network provision at my new school is that it is ‘just enough’.

Although the main backbone of the network is well-provisioned, with significant spare capacity,  actually using that capacity can prove tricky. You see, everywhere there are UTP points, there are ‘just enough’. As in, there are enough to supply the existing computer equipment, and no more.

Most classrooms have exactly one UTP socket. In both offices and computer labs, the number of network points rarely exceeds the current number of computers, and where it does, never by more than one. Any other type of room has no networking at all. This is made all the more infuriating by the fact that in almost every case, single UTP sockets have been used.

Double sockets take up the same amount of space, and require only fractionally more effort and cost to install. Frankly, I want to shoot the various infrastructure suppliers who have agreed over the years that single sockets were a good idea. It’s either retarded not to consider future growth, or criminal to deliberately under-specify on the basis that the customer will have to come back and pay again later. In my last school we installed our own networking, and worked by the rule that we ALWAYS installed twice as much as we currently need. Hell, we’d usually install twice as much as we could IMAGINE needing. The new sick room that was built two years ago has at least 8 network sockets, if I remember correctly.

Adjusting to this new lacklustre provision has been… well, crucifying. New networkable colour copier shows up? No spare network point in the office. Additional computers in a department? No network points. Plans for wireless access points in some rooms? Great… but what will we plug them in to…?

In short, almost any new equipment provision involves running new network cabling, which inflates the cost far beyond the point that it should. If not for the fact I can do it myself, the cost of just three new departmental computers would have been double the amount originally budgeted. This evening I finished a 3-hour install job to run new network cabling just so that I can install a goddamned network printer next week. All I needed was one extra socket. Guess what?

I INSTALLED TWO. See how hard that is?