Today's stories [9.1.11]
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Engineering history lesson
It's not very often that we ask why things are the way
they are but here's an answer for you, The US 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 US 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
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 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 Imperial Rome, they were all alike in the matter
of wheel spacing. The US 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 arse 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 has
determined over two thousand years ago by the width of a horse's arse!
Don't you just love engineering?
The Criminally Stupid Bank Robber
In San Francisco, a man, wanting to rob a downtown Bank of
America, walked into a local branch and wrote, "this iz a
stikkup. Put all your muny in this bag."
While standing in line, waiting to give his note to the teller,
he began to worry that someone had seen him write the note and
that they might call the police before he even reached the teller
window. So he left the Bank of America and crossed the street to
After waiting a few minutes in line, he handed his note to the
Wells Fargo teller. She read it, noticing all of his spelling
errors. She quickly surmised that he wasn't the brightest light
in the harbor.
Then she told him that she could not accept his stickup note
because it was written on a Bank of America deposit slip and that
he would either have to fill out a Wells Fargo deposit slip or go
back to Bank of America.
Looking somewhat defeated, the man said "OK" and left. The Wells
Fargo teller then called the police who arrested the man a few
minutes later, as he was waiting in line back at Bank of America.
A daughter sends a telegram to her father on her clearing B.Ed (Bachelor
Of Education) Exams, which the father receives as: "Father, your daughter
has been successful in BED."
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