A Monkey Can Do It

A tourist walks into a pet shop in Silicon Valley, and is browsing around the cages on display.  While he’s there, another customer walks in and says to the shopkeeper, “I’ll have a C monkey, please”. The shopkeeper nods, goes over to a cage at the side.  He fits a collar and leash and hands it to the customer, saying “That’ll be $5,000”.  The customer pays and walks out with his monkey.

Startled, the tourist goes over to the shopkeeper and says, “That was a very expensive monkey.  Most of them are only a few hundred dollars.  Why did it cost so much?”

“Oh”, says the shopkeeper, “that monkey can program in C with very fast, tight code, no bugs, well worth the money.”

The tourist starts to look at the monkeys in the cage. He says to the shop keeper, “That one’s even more expensive, $10,000! What does it do?”

“Oh”, says the shopkeeper, “that one’s a C++ monkey; it can manage object-oriented programming, Visual C++, even some Java, all the really useful stuff.”

The tourist looks around for a little longer and sees a third monkey in a cage on its own.  The price tag round its neck says $50,000. He gasps to the shop keeper, “That one costs more than all the others put together! What on earth does it do?”

“Well,” says the shopkeeper, “I don’t know if it does anything, but it says it’s a Consultant.”

How Specs Live Forever

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 the US railroads were built by English expatriates.

Why did the English people 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 use that odd wheel spacing?  Well, if they tried to use any other spacing the wagons would break on some of the old, long distance roads, because that’s the spacing of the old wheel ruts.

So who built these old rutted roads?  The first long distance roads in Europe were built by Imperial Rome for the benefit of their legions.  The roads have been used ever since.

And the ruts?  The initial ruts, which everyone else had to match for fear of destroying their wagons, were first made by Roman war chariots.  Since the chariots were made for or by Imperial Rome they were all alike in the matter of wheel spacing.  Thus, we have the answer to the original questions.

The United State standard railroad gauge of 4 feet, 8.5 inches derives from the original specification for an Imperial Roman army war chariot.  Specs 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 chariots were made to be just wide enough to accommodate the back-ends of two war horses.