Archive for March, 2014

Hi everyone:

As I write this, it’s March 2014 and after a long and cold winter (at least by Southern Ontario standards), it looks like spring is about to arrive and bring people back to life. I must confess that I haven’t had a problem with the winter of 2013-14 at all. Maybe it’s my Montreal upbringing, and given that Montreal is much further north than the Toronto area and that the average winter there is much harsher than a typical Toronto one, I am used to what we have seen here since last fall. But I must admit that even I will enjoy the return of warmer weather. Well, that is until the sticky hot and humid summer days of July and August return. As you may know if you have read many of my past blog entries, I am not much of a summer person!

And this time of year may also be a good time to bring my blog back to life too. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to post anything, it’s just that my life has been rather busy on a number of fronts and some changes have come that I need to address (and may talk about here in other blog entries if I feel moved to do so). And as part of all this, it is important to keep advertising my writing talents to interested parties. There’s no better way to do this than through my blog.  So now that I have taken a moment to explain why I haven’t updated things for a while, let’s move to the subject of today’s entry.

What you are about to read today is based on an e-mail that I received from a friend of mine last Christmas. I thought it was rather fun to read and felt it would make a great blog entry. But not exactly as I received it. I don’t believe in plaguarizing and passing off someone else’s work as my own, so I decided to do a re-write of sorts. I hope you enjoy this, and like all my blog entries, feel free to pass this along to others. Ready? Here we go!

Did you know that the width of a horse’s ass has played a key role in shaping world history? And that once you read this, you may never look at things like railroad tracks, street widths and other transportation systems the same way again. The whole thing goes something like this:

The standard railroad gauge (distance between the rails) used throughout North America (and probably world-wide, I will have to check on this) is 4 feet, 8.5 inches. Now I’ll bet you’re thinking that this is a rather strange number. Why was that gauge used, and why have it as that exact distance? Because that’s the way they built them in England, and English expatriates designed the U.S. railroads. Hardly surprising when you consider that prior to 1776 the U.S.A. was in fact a series of British colonies that were strongly influenced by their mother country. When it came time to bring railways to America, guess where they looked for their inspiration?

So now that we have answered the above question, it’s an easy step to the next one: Why did the English build them like that? Answer: because the first rail lines were built by the same people who built the pre-railroad tramways, and that’s the gauge they used.

Using the same method of reasoning, let’s keep going with the next logical question in the sequence. Why did ‘they’ use that gauge when they designed those tramways? Because the people who built the tramways used the same jigs and tools that they had used for building wagons, which used that wheel spacing.

By now, I think you can see where I am headed, but let’s keep going. Why did the wagons have that particular odd wheel spacing?
If those folks had tried to use a different spacing, the wagon wheels would have broken on some of the old, long distance roads in England, because that’s the spacing of the wheel ruts.

Get the picture? Keeping working with me, there’s still a ways left to go.  Here’s our next question: Who built those old rutted roads? The answer goes all the way back to Imperial Rome, who were responsible for building the first long distance roads in Europe (including England ) for their legions. The Romans understood the value of tying their vast Empire together, and that a well established network of roads was key in maintaining their rule. And something like 2,000 years later, what they designed forms the basis for the vast network of highways and byways that exist across Europe today.

But praising the Romans for their ability to connect their Empire and the fact that their efforts still exist today doesn’t really answer the above question. How about the ruts in the roads? And why that exact width? It’s because their 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. Got it? If not, let me put this another way that ties the whole thing together. The United States standard railroad gauge of 4 feet, 8.5 inches is derived from the original specifications for an Imperial Roman war chariot. In other words, bureaucracies live forever.

So to go back to the last part of this blog entry’s title, let’s suppose you are at work one day and someone hands you a specification, procedure, or process. And you think to yourself: “Gee, I wonder what horse’s ass came up with this thing,” you may be more on the mark than you might think. That’s because imperial Roman army chariots were made just wide enough to accommodate the rear ends of two war horses. And to bring us back to where we started, work your way back up to the top of the page. When you are there,  bear in mind what you have just read so far. And when you do that, you will see why railroads use that particular gauge.

But just when you thought the story was over, let me put another spin on all this. Because believe it or not, this whole thing is literally “out of this world”.  These days, NASA no longer flies the space shuttles. But in its day, ships like the “Enterprise”, “Atlantis” and “Columbia” played a vital role in the American space program. Did you ever take a good look at one of those space shuttles sitting on its launch pad? Probably not, but if you did, you would have noticed that there were two big booster rockets attached to the sides of the main fuel tank. Those were the solid rocket boosters, or SRBs. The SRBs were made for NASA by Thiokol at their factory in Utah. The engineers who designed the SRBs would have preferred to make them a bit larger, but the SRBs had to be shipped by train from the factory to the launch site. Ah ha! See where I am going here? That’s right. The railroad line from the factory happens to run through a tunnel in the mountains, and 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 in the end, it turned out that a major space shuttle design feature of what was arguably the world’s most advanced transportation system was determined over two thousand years ago by the width of a horse’s ass.

The moral of the story? If you’re one of those people who thinks that being a horse’s ass wasn’t important – you might want to think again! Now that you have read this entire passage, you just might know better. Horses’ asses control almost everything… and that explains a whole lot of stuff, doesn’t it.

Time to wrap this up and move onto other things. As always, thanks for reading this blog entry – until next time!

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