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Explaining Bandwidth Limits

2009-06-04

Category: General

One of the more difficult things about working in the Information Technology field is explaining technical things to non-technical people. In a world where computers seem to be magic boxes, many users believe there are no restrictions. This shows up readily when explaining limits on bandwidth.

It doesn't help that many different fields use the word "bandwidth" to mean different things. The electronics and optics geeks use it to describe frequencies and/or wavelengths. Fat people use it to decide whether their underwear will cut into their flesh. In networking, including the Internet, we use bandwidth to describe how much data can go through a connection over a specified amount of time.

You may have encountered this with your Internet Service Provider (ISP). The pricing for your connection includes a specific amount of bandwidth per billing period. Some plans offer unlimited bandwidth. If you have a web site hosted somewhere, the host probably tells you that you can have only so much traffic per month before you have to upgrade to the next, more expensive package deal.

If you are an IT monkey, you will eventually have to explain to someone that there is insufficient bandwidth on your network to do what they ask. Many will either understand what you've said well enough or at least realize that it means you have a valid reason for saying no to the request. Other just won't get it and keep pressing for you to make the magic happen. Here's how to deal with them.

First, hold up your forearm so that it is vertical. Roll your hand into a fist. Make sure the person receiving the explanation can see it. Say to them, "Imagine that this is the amount of data you want to send through the network."

Now, hold up your other hand and curl your forefinger and thumb to make a tiny, tight, little circle. Say to them, "Imagine that this represents our maximum bandwidth. You'll see that it resembles your sphincter."

Finally, move your fist slowly toward the circle in the other hand and say, "Now imagine this fist size block of data being shoved through your sphincter." Adopt an expression of horror and concern. Run the fist into the other hand a couple of times. "I'm sure you wouldn't want us to run a fist like this into your sphincter. That's why we can't exceed our bandwidth on the network. It would be like ramming this fist up your sphincter."

If they seem to clench up and get uncomfortable, they have probably gotten the message. If they start salivating heavily, grinning slightly, and breathing fast, you should probably get the message and never make sphincter references around them again.

Social engineering says that we should use human nature to help herd people to where they need to go. The bad guys use this idea to get users to hand over credit card info. There is no reason why we can't use these techniques to help educate the uneducatable. If it doesn't work, we can always choose to use the social engineering to help herd these people off a cliff, because that's yet another way to help explain limits on resources and a lack of magic.


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