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Friday, July 31, 2009

"The Problem's at the Distant End"

This is the answer to the question, "what's the problem with the commo"?

"Commo" is slang for "communication" and the setting is the Army in the 1980s. Back then we used to run wire between positions in the field so soldiers and command posts could talk on antiquated hand-crank telephones (obviously, this was before the age of handheld computer devices -- the wire technology was pretty much from WWII). We also used antiquated FM radios for short-range tactical communications between units in the field.

When the radios broke or the crank phones couldn't talk, one of the soldiers would seek out the signal folks and ask "what's the problem with the commo?" You couldn't say "I don't know" so the obvious answer was "the problem's at the distant end". Of course, that answer was rarely allowed to stand and, if the problem was with a land line, the "wire dogs" would have to head out and figure out what was what.

When we talk about wire communications -- and that's wire hung on poles or in the trees, but more likely laying on the ground -- the first technique for troubleshooting the problem was to go about half way between the two parties, splice into the wire and see which way the commo was good and which way it wasn't. Then, you'd just keep dividing the offending part in half and repeat until the problem was found. This low-tech troubleshooting really does work and it's impartial...even though you say the problem's with the other end, this troubleshooting figures out for sure where the break lies.

How many times, when we're having trouble with personal communication between people, do we think the problem is at the distant end? How many times do we consider our end of the communication and if the problem could be with us?

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