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1
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Telecommunications, like all highly visible and interesting fields, is full of apocryphal stories, technical myths, and fascinating legends. Everyone in the field seems to know someone who knows the outside-plant repairperson who found the poisonous snake in the equipment box in the manhole,1 or the person who was on the cable-laying ship when it pulled up the cable that had been bitten through by some species of deep water shark, or a collection of seriously evil hackers, or the backhoe driver who cut the cable that put Los Angeles off the air for 12 hours. There is also a collection of technojargon that pervades the telecommunications industry and often gets in the way of the relatively straightforward task of learning how all this stuff actually works. To ensure that such things don t get in the way of absorbing what s in this book, I d like to begin with a discussion of some of them. I am a writer, after all; words are important to me. This is a book about telecommunications, which is the science of com municating over distance ( tele- , from the Greek tele, meaning far off ). It is, however, fundamentally dependent upon data communications, the science of moving traffic between computing devices so that this traffic can be manipulated in some way to make it useful. Data, in and of itself, is not particularly useful, consisting as it does of a stream of ones and zeroes that is meaningful only to the computing device that will receive and manipulate those ones and zeroes. The data does not really become useful until it is converted by some application into information, because a human can generally understand information. The human then acts upon the information using a series of intuitive processes that further convert the information into knowledge; at this point it becomes truly useful. Here s an example: A computer generates a steady stream of ones and zeroes in response to a series of business activities involving the computer that generates the ones and zeroes. Those ones and zeroes are fed into another computer, where an application converts them into a spreadsheet of sales figures (information) for the store from which they originated. A financial analyst studies the spreadsheet, calculates a few ratios, examines some historical data (including not only sales numbers but demographics, weather patterns, and political trends), and makes an informed prediction about future stocking requirements and advertising focal points for the store based on the knowledge that the analyst was able to create from the distilled information. That s knowledge. To take it one step further, once decisions have been made and the results of those
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I realize that this term has fallen out of favor, but I use it here for historical accuracy.
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decisions have been seen, wisdom allows decision makers to learn from their decisions. So they can make them again if the results are positive, or choose differently if they re not. Data, information, knowledge, and wisdom a critical continuum. Data communications relies on a carefully designed set of rules that governs the manner in which computers exchange data. These rules are called protocols, and they are centrally important to the study of data communications. Dictionaries define protocol as a code of correct conduct. From the perspective of data communications, they define it as a standard procedure for regulating the transmission of data between computers, which is itself a code of correct conduct. These protocols, which will be discussed in detail later in this book, provide a widely accepted methodology for everything from the pin assignments on physical connectors to the sublime encoding techniques used in secure transmission systems. Simply put, they represent the many rule sets that govern the game. Many countries play football, for example, but the rules are all slightly different. In the United States, players are required to weigh more than a car, yet be able to run faster than one. In Australian rules football, the game is declared forfeit if it fails to produce at least one body part amputation on the field or if at least one player doesn t eat another. They are both football, however. In data communications, the problem is similar: Many protocols out there accomplish the same thing. Data, for example, can be transmitted from one side of the world to the other in a variety of ways including T1, E1, microwave, optical fiber, satellite, coaxial cable, and even through the water. The end result is identical the data arrives at its intended destination. Different protocols, however, govern the process in each case. A discussion of protocols would be incomplete without a simultaneous discussion of standards. If protocols are the various sets of rules by which the game is played, standards govern which set of rules will be applied for a particular game. For example, let s assume that we need to move traffic between a PC and a printer. We agree that in order for the PC to be able to transmit a printable file to the printer, both sides must agree on a common representation for the zeroes and ones that make up the transmitted data. They agree, for example (and this is only an example), that they will both rely on a protocol that represents a zero as the absence of voltage and a one as the presence of a 3-volt pulse on the line, as shown in Figure 1-1. Since they agree on the representation, the printer knows when the PC is sending a one and when the PC is sending a zero. Imagine what would happen if they failed to agree on such a simple thing beforehand. If the transmitting PC decides to represent a one
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