Back in the days of RG-58 Ethernet coax and Novell NetWare servers, I worked for a small networking firm. One of the VPs had friends at the Pentagon, and one day -- to everyone's amazement -- we landed a lucrative contract to install a network for a military pay-and-benefits facility at the Department of Defense (DoD). This was supposed to be a ground-up installation, everything from pulling cable to configuring the server, setting up all the stations, and training the user community.

When the time came to install the coax, we tried to hire our regular cabling contractor, a company with whom we'd done several successful cable installation jobs. But when we called the DoD to arrange for passes, we discovered that its security people would not authorise our guys to do the cabling. Apparently, due to some long-standing security regulation, all cabling had to be done by the DoD's own electrical department.

We had no choice, so we said OK. The DoD laid the cable, we installed the server, updated the stations with network cards, and configured the NetWare software. Everything was working like gangbusters.

At least we thought so. Several days after the DoD signed off, we got phone calls from a couple of data-entry clerks who couldn't see the server. We checked their systems, and everything looked cool. The only unusual thing was that they were both at the end of the network bus. Peculiar. We knew the hardware and software was working properly, and the distance from the server (on one end of the bus) to the technicians (on the other end) was well within Ethernet coaxial limits for distance and signal strength. We had to assume something had gone haywire in the actual physical installation. But what could it be?

Only one way to find out. Our project manager, "Charlie", borrowed a tall stepladder and was halfway up to the drop-down ceiling when two armed security guards appeared and politely but firmly explained that any further attempt to access the overhead would be met with lethal force. Apparently there were concerns about bugs being planted in the overheads. Charlie climbed down in a hurry, but it was nearly half an hour before I could convince the security guards to put away the handcuffs.

Back at the home office, I called my boss, who placed several high-level phone calls to the DoD honchos. Two days later, a special security document was issued permitting our team to access the coax cabling, as long as those security guys kept their eyes on us.

It was a bit like a Laurel and Hardy comedy. Charlie got back on the ladder and poked his head into the overhead. Ten feet away the security guys were on their own ladders, watching Charlie to make sure he didn't implant some devilish James Bond device. But once we got up there ... surprise! Laying up in the ceiling was a neat coil of about 100 feet of "extra" coax cable -- more than enough to put the techs at the end of the bus over the limit for proper distance/signal functionality.

Obviously the DoD's electrical team had never been trained in laying network coaxial cable and was unaware of the issues involved. After we removed the extra cable (and re-routed the coax away from an elevator power line) everything worked fine.

If you think that the government knows best, you are living in a fool's paradise.