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Allright. I’m sticking with the TV theme of the night. I don’t know how many of you are familiar with the skit from Sesame Street with Lefty the Salesman trying to sell the Golden AN. The plan went something like, “Take the Golden AN, put it in the tan van. Give it to Dan, who takes it to Fran.” He can’t quite keep the order together, so he audibly tries to work it out. Which would have been fine had a police officer named Stan not been passing within earshot. Stan gives him “ten days in the can for stealing the Golden AN.” The skit ends with Lefty saying “I should have ran!”

If you’re old enough to remember that skit, you may, from time to time, have issues with the myriad of ANs that exist in the world of computers today. From WANs to MANs to LANs and even CANs, PANs and HANs, it seems like there’s a new Lefty at every elecronics show trying to move yet another AN. So how do you keep them all straight? To help you out, we’ll borrow a bit from Grover’s Near and Far skit. I don’t know if Jay Lee has a Grover in addition to his Kermit, but the skit entails Grover running into the foreground of the television frame, shouting NEAR, running to the background, shouting FAR. That’s pretty much it. For our own AN tour, we’ll start with Far and work our way up to Near.

The universal bulding block in this excercise is the AN, which stands for Area Network. The network is the medium used to connect any number devices or users to other devices and/or users. So really, all you have to do is learn and understand the first letter of each Area Network acronym. It’s not like I’m asking you to memorize CCMP. Anyone want to take a guess at that? CCMP? It’s my latest acronym.

Counter Mode with Cipher Block Chaining Message Authentication Code Protocol aka the new 802.11i encryption protocol that does away with parts of WEP and WPA.

*You* don’t have to memorize that. All you have to do is remember ‘Area Network’ and make an educated guess at the first letter.

So, starting with farthest out, we’ve got the WAN or Wide Area Network. If you have a hardware router or wireless access point at home, chances are it has a WAN port on the back that you connect to whatever device provides your broadband. And that’s what a WAN is, a large network designed to cover very large distances. Several routing protocols exist to make this happen, with TCP/IP (or Transmission Control Protocol slash Internet Protocol) being the most widely known. So when you see WAN, think Internet, and plug things in accordingly.

A little closer to home we have the LAN. This is the Local Area Network that interconnects all the computers in your home or all of the computers in a small office. Most home broadband routers, firewalls, and Wireless Access Points will have a LAN port on the back. Some have several. If the WAN port faces the Internet, then the LAN side faces the computers on your side of the device. Most LANs use a certain class of TCP/IP address that isn’t routable on the WAN. These IP addresses usually start with a 192, 172 or 10. And if you remove the wires, you’ve got a WLAN, or Wireless Local Area Network. So that’s your one hard AN acronym. Technically, you can have up to 254 hosts on a LAN. If you want to go beyond that, say, in a large office environment, you have to look back to the WAN or decide to go MAN.

Now there’s some gray area surrounding MANs. MANs are Metropolitain Area Networks and can usually be recognized by their exellent personal grooming habits (that’s where the term MANscaping comes from), their fashionable wardrobe and their stylish accessories. Remember: It’s not a purse, it’s a Metropolitain Area Network Bag. Actually, it’s a purse.

Continuing the run into the foreground, we have CANs. CANs or Controller Area Networks, have already been deployed in newer automobiles, in factories and even in some hospitals. These simple network devices replace short runs of wire where wire just won’t do, letting things like the air pressure sensors in your car’s valve stems communicate with your car’s controller, flashing a ‘low air pressure’ warning on the dash. Another application is letting multiple pieces of medical equipment communicate with each other without the need for runs of wires all around the operating table, tripping both doctors and nurses.

HANs or Home Area Networks are definitely the new hotness. This network connects household appliances like washers and dryers to Smart Energy Meters and thermostats that are popping up in parts of Texas. With a HAN, you can easily do things like schedule your washer and dryer to run when energy prices are low. And your appliances will know the current price of electricity because the SmartMeter on the outside of the house makes that information available to the main HAN controller. Giving you the ability to turn on your AC remotely or even pre-heat the oven if you’re on the way home from the store with some frozen fare.

Both Controller Area Networks and Home Area Networks take advantage of low power devices with a very small form factors. The ZigBee standard is one that’s being leveraged more and more these days, due to the small size and the fact that it can run months if not years on a single battery. If you remember WarDriving or using Network Stumbler in the early days of WiFi, know that this is going to be the next version of that. There’s already a Network Stumbler-esque program for the ZigBee standard, which is quickly becoming the defacto standard for HANs and CANs.

And finally, the PAN, or Personal Area Network. BlueTooth is an excellent example of this. PANs let you connect personal devices to other personal devices. For instance, streaming music from your phone to another BlueTooth device, like a pair of wireless headphones. Several of Dwight’s mice would also land in that category, along with any kind of pairing you do between your phone and your laptop or car.

So, you’re now ready to handle anything “AN”, golden or otherwise.

To check out some PAN, HAN and CAN gear in person, come out to this Friday’s Geek Gathering, happening at the Coffee Groundz in Midtown Houston at McGowan between Bagby and Brazos. Things get started at seven and can go quite late. We’ve lined up our own 8-bit DJ for a return performance, along with Brenden Macaluso of Recompute. He’ll be bringing at least one Recomputer, a very green PC that’s made of corrugated cardboard held together with non-toxic white glue. We’ll also have a smattering of Arduino gear and open source hardware. WiFi and electricity are free, but coffee, beer, wine, liquor and food will set you back a dollar or two. All of this happens this Friday starting at seven on the Siete de Mayo.

And while that’s nearly it for the cessation of your Cinco de Mayo, that’s that for BarretTime.

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