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On the persistance of standards (was: Fwd: engineering)

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  • Adi Stav
    I ve just received this one on the Larry Niven mailing list . It s nice to see that QWERTY is not the only example of the
    Message 1 of 1 , May 5, 2001
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      I've just received this one on the Larry Niven mailing list
      <larryniven-l@...>. It's nice to see that QWERTY is not the
      only example of the persistance of broken specs... Any other ones?

      > The U.S. standard railroad gauge (distance between the rails) is 4
      > feet, 8.5 inches. That is an exceedingly odd number. Why was that
      > gauge used? Because that's the way they built them in England, and
      > the
      > U.S. railroads were built by English expatriates.
      > Why did the English build them that way? 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? Because
      > the people who built the tramways used the same jigs and tools that
      > they used for building wagons, which used that wheel spacing.
      > So why did the wagons have that particular odd 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 was the
      > spacing of the wheel ruts.
      > So who built those old rutted roads? The first long distance roads in
      > Europe (and England) were built by Imperial Rome for their legions.
      > The roads have been used ever since. And the ruts in the roads? The
      > ruts in the roads, which everyone had to match for fear of destroying
      > their wagon wheels, were first formed by Roman war chariots. Since
      > the chariots were made for (or by) Imperial Rome, they were all alike
      > in the matter of wheel spacing.
      > The U.S. standard railroad gauge of 4 feet-8.5 inches derives from the
      > original specification for an Imperial Roman war chariot.
      > Specifications 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 end of two war
      > horses.
      > Thus we have the answer to the original question.
      > Now for the twist to the story. When we see a space shuttle sitting
      > on it's launching pad, there are two booster rockets attached to the
      > side of the main fuel tank. These are solid rocket boosters, or
      > SRB's. The SRB's are made by Thiokol at their factory in Utah. The
      > engineers who designed the SRB's might have preferred to make them a
      > bit fatter, but the SRB's had to be shipped by train from the factory
      > to the launch site. The railroad line from the factory had to run
      > through a tunnel in the mountains. The tunnel is slightly wider than
      > the railroad track, and the railroad track is about as wide as two
      > horses' rumps.
      > So, a major 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!
      > Don't you just love engineering?
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