Jay Littlefield, Director, Product Strategy & Business Development
Jay is a Product Strategist at Real Intent with over 20 years of design and EDA experience. His primary focus for the past decade has been support and marketing of static verification products. He has a MSEE from Stanford and a MBA from San Jose State.
The Many Tentacled Monster Under My House (with Pictures)
October 29th, 2015 by Jay Littlefield, Director, Product Strategy & Business Development
Many years ago, my wife and I bought our first home. At that time, a coworker said to me, “Congratulations! You now have a home project to do every weekend for the rest of your life!” How right he was, though his prediction only covered our first 6 years, since we had sold that early house and moved into an apartment in San Francisco.
Fast forwarding to this past summer, our family made the decision to move back to the south bay. We located a nice house near a good elementary school within our budget, and moved in over the Independence Day weekend. Part of the move involved pulling my old woodworking tools out of storage. (Back when we first moved to the City, I’d tried with no success to convince my wife that a table saw sitting in the middle of our living room in our small apartment really wouldn’t be an inconvenience.) For me, setting up the tools once more was like seeing long absent friends. As they took their new places in our garage, my thoughts turned to how to use them to make “improvements” in our new home.
After assessing the state of the house, I eventually settled on wiring the home for networking. As our family’s “Geek-In-Residence”, I’ve long preferred the additional speed and security provided by cabled networking over wireless. Additionally, we were nowhere close to maximizing the speed of our high-bandwidth internet connection, and our wireless network was regularly slowing to a crawl whenever our kids would watch streaming movies to our TV. I’d run network cable before in our old house with good results, but figured this time around, I’d recruit some additional help. I floated the idea of running network cable to my two kids, ages 8 and 6. Both seemed mildly indifferent to the idea, until I explained that this project involved crawling around under the house. Their enthusiasm meter immediately spiked. My wife’s response was more tempered, involving a well-practiced eye roll and head shake, but then signing off on the project with the utterance, “Whatever!” (As good as a signed contract in our house!) I ordered the supplies and made a wiring plan.
There are two keys to any successful home improvement project – good planning and a high spousal approval rating of the finished project. I wanted to run cabling throughout all rooms of the house, and to hide the networking equipment in closets, since I knew my wife would prefer that they would remain unseen. As this plan would require a lot of drilling between walls and possibly under the house, I took the opportunity to upgrade my tool set with a cordless drill. I learned about selecting tools from my father. He was a machinist, and he had a simple philosophy regarding tool purchases – “Buy tools of sufficient quality that your offspring will inherit them from you.” Aside from the initial out-of-pocket expense, I’ve never been disappointed living by this rule. In that spirit, I took one of the potential future recipients with me to pick it out, along with a drill bit suitable to our purpose.
Future tool owner with inheritance.
We started by cutting holes in the walls where the eventual Ethernet wall jacks would be found. Once a hole was cleared, I took the new drill and extra-long-bit to make a 1” hole into the floor studs to run the wiring up from the crawl space. The tight nature of the in-wall access necessitated drilling the holes at a slight angle. This shouldn’t have been a problem, except for the one wall which bordered on a room with a 6 inch drop in the floor height. Fortunately, some slight re-planning of the network jack locations and a rapid approval sign-off by management (my wife) resolved the issue with a minimum of incidental profane language training for my kids provided by myself.
Oops! A vocabulary enhancement moment. The Fix: Making lemonade out of lemons
Next came the cable runs under the house. The plan was to put the network patch panel in my home office closet and run all connections from there. My wife was already a pro at fishing cables through walls from various home projects in our old house. This project started like any other we have done together; I recommended a technique to her to use to get the cable easily through the height of the wall, and she discovered a substantially improved method within minutes of attempting the first cable run. I left her to manage the above ground work while I prepared for the crawl space cable runs. My son and daughter traded off “assisting” above and below the floor with Mom and Dad throughout the day.
In all honesty, I had expected my kids to have mixed interest under the house. While the concept was cool, the reality might be a bit scary for someone their ages. Perhaps they would pass Dad some tools while he worked, or maybe feed a cable through a hole. Was I wrong! Not only did they like being under the house, they were actually much more effective than their old man in running cable. Because they were physically so much smaller, they could easily crawl on their hands and knees where I could only slide along the ground on my stomach. That means they could run a cable to the far end of the house in about a minute, whereas I might take 2-3 due to the tight space.
After a few practice runs, they were ready to go solo. I would hand them a freshly fished cable from the crew upstairs, and they would grab the end and say, “Where to Dad?” They ran the lines to the pre-drilled holes while I kept the feed coming down into the crawl space from snagging. By the end of the day they each had their own roll of electrical table to tie the end of the cable to a converted coat hanger that would feed the cable back up through the wall to where the Ethernet jacks would be. We made such good progress that I spent much of my time using cable nails to clean up the runs while the kids ran other lines. They thoroughly enjoyed the experience. And let’s face it – how many elementary school students can claim they ran the networking cable that they use in their rooms? They have serious playground cred now!
Would you want this crowd crawling under your house?
With our cables run, there was still the business of wiring up the jacks and testing the connections. A tip for parents out there who may consider this project on their own – small children find both punch tools and network testers to be fascinating equipment. This is advantageous in that they are more than willing to run from room to room, crawl under furniture and attach test fixtures to hard-to-reach Ethernet jacks while you sit “working” at the main patch panel with a network signal generator and an ice-cold beverage. The biggest issue you will face is ensuring everyone gets an equal number of jacks to test. (Hint, when planning your home network, ensure the total number of connections you want to run divides evenly by the number of children you have. You’ll be glad you did!) In all, we had less than 3 connections that needed rewiring out of 20 run throughout the house.
Punch tools are fun! Blinking lights are cool!
So was the whole thing worth it? As far as my own goals for the project, I’d say yes. We’re now getting nearly the top advertised speed from my internet connection across all wired devices. This means my kids can watch Netflix shows and I can be on a company internet meeting without interference. Also, our wireless connections rarely seem crowded now. And with the 8 wired network connections I installed in my home office, I have ports for all of my current devices, with room for more! But honestly, getting to do this project with my wife and kids was a real reward. I discovered, once again, that I married someone not only intelligent and beautiful, but also capable of fishing cable through walls like nobody’s business. In addition, the excitement my kids felt in knowing they were working on a project with Mom and Dad was simply too much to express in words. I am looking forward to our next home improvement adventure.
The Result showing the Monoprice 24-port gigabit switch connected to the TrendNet 24-port CAT6 patch panel. You can see the cable ‘tentacles’ coming through the wall at the top and bottom of the patch panel.
Tags: 24-port, cabling, ethernet, family project, gigabit switch, home improvement, networking, power tools, wired