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How do standards come to be?

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  • hjwoudenberg@aol.com
    Message 1 of 2 , Mar 28, 2002
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      The US standard railroad gauge (distance between the rails) is 4 feet, 8.5 inches. That's an exceedingly odd number. Why was that gauge used?

      Because that's the way they built them in England, and English expatriates built the U.S. Railroads. Why did the English build them like that?

      Because the first rail lines were built by the same people who built the pre-railroad tramways, and that's the gauge they used. Why did "they use that gauge then?

      Because the people who built the tramways used the same jigs and tools that they used for building wagons, which used that wheel spacing.

      Okay! Why did the wagons have that particular odd wheel spacing?

      Well, if they tried to use any other spacing, the wagon wheels would break on some of the old, long distance roads in England, because that's the spacing of the wheel ruts.

      So who built those old rutted roads? Imperial Rome built the first long distance roads in Europe (and England) for their legions. The roads have been used ever since. And the ruts in the roads?

      Roman war chariots formed the initial ruts, which everyone else had to match for fear of destroying their wagon wheels. Since the chariots were made for Imperial Rome, they were all alike in the matter of wheel spacing.

      The United States standard railroad gauge of 4 feet, 8.5 inches is derived from the original specifications for an Imperial Roman war chariot. And bureaucracies live forever.

      So the next time you are handed a specification and wonder what horse's ass came up with it, you may be exactly right, because the Imperial Roman war chariots were made just wide enough to accommodate the back ends of two war horses.

      Now the twist to the story...

      When you see a Space Shuttle sitting on its launch pad, there are two big booster rockets attached to the sides of the main fuel tank. These are solid rocket boosters, or SRBs. The SRBs are made by Thiokol at their factory at Utah. The engineers who designed the SRBs would have preferred to make them a bit fatter, but the SRBs had to be shipped by
      train from the factory to the launch site.

      The railroad line from the factory happens to run through a tunnel in the mountains. The SRBs had to fit through that tunnel. The tunnel is slightly wider than the railroad track, and the railroad track, as you now know, is about as wide as two horses' behinds.

      So, a major Space Shuttle design feature of what is arguably the world's most advanced transportation system was determined over two thousand years ago by the width of a horse's ass.

      ... and you thought being a HORSE'S ASS wasn't important

    • Peter Haas
      On 2002-03-28T15:32:49, woudenberg wrote a long posting over the importance of horse s asses. But I can t detect any importance for ISO8601. Please hj, can you
      Message 2 of 2 , Mar 28, 2002
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        On 2002-03-28T15:32:49, woudenberg wrote a long posting over the
        importance of horse's asses.

        But I can't detect any importance for ISO8601.

        Please hj, can you omit such off topic postings.

        And please set your Mail-Client to 'only text', you produce oversized
        postings because of text plus a html attachment with the same contents.

        However, I can't abstain from any comments. I will attempt to find a
        junction to the subject standard. :-)

        The maximal gauge in the english kingdom was determine per rule:
        lesser than 5 foot.
        The first english railroad gauge was 1422 mm (4 foot, 8 inch), any years
        later George Stephenson have increased to 1435 mm. The modern european
        high speed railroad tracks use 1432 mm. There are many railroad tracks
        with different gauges. I have found a norwegian website with over 50
        different gauges: http://www.urvik.no/HMjK/sporvidde.en.html (change
        'en' to 'de' or 'no' for any translations).

        The consequence of the differences: the passengers must change trains or
        the train must change the gauge (particularly for industrial transport).
        Therefore the most countries have change its railroad tracks to a common
        standard, mostly 1435 mm (4 foot, 8.5 inch). But today we can find
        important differences in Europe at least for Spain, Portugal (1676 mm)
        and Russia (1.524 mm = 5 foot, partially changed to 1435 mm).

        I hope the ISO 8601 standard need not over 100 years to realize.

        In the bureau of mayor in my hometown the directive to use the ISO date
        was withdraw last year. :-(
        The argument: The people don't accept the 'new' date. (new = 1993)

        Cheers Peter.
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