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From Stephen Zisk <>
Subject Re: Long term impacts on design decisions...
Date Fri, 30 Jun 2000 13:03:13 GMT
Niclas Hedhman wrote:

>  The rocket booster on the side of the shuttle are a very specific
>  width...


>  SO next time someone asks you "What horse's ass designed the space
>  shuttle?" you can tell him it was a Roman's.

Bzztt! This is an old "urban myth", updated to the space age. Each stage of 
the argument is essentially false.

The Romans *did* have variable axle widths, and did not use chariots much 
to drive around England. They marched instead. Although they did build many 
straight roads in England, most of the roads cut for carriages were of 
later design, and were not designed to a standard, but were developed as 
private turnpikes by landed gents or as transport roads by civil 
authorities to move supplies and armies.

Carriages in both the US and UK had many different axle widths, and wagons 
had others. Railroads were worse, with competing companies *intentionally* 
choosing incompatible track and truck widths as a means of controlling 
traffic. Standardization in the USA only occurred after the Civil War, with 
the consolidation of rail systems and the rise of monopolies and cartels to 
define the standards.

As far as I know, there were no major tunnels cut for horse-and-buggy 
traffic. The reason tunnels were cut narrowly was that it was expensive and 
dangerous to drill and blast solid rock in the days before dynamite. 
Nitro-glycerin and black powder were notoriously unsafe and unreliable.

I would take two lessons from this exchange:

   1.) The tension between open standards and proprietary controls has
       been with us for a long time. It's not clear that either side
       is "better" at defining standards (although it *is* clear that
       economic powers are only interested in standards when they think
       they will be able to exploit them.

   2.) Stories and myths become an important post hoc way of defining
       our history. If we fall into the trap of believing them, we may
       lose sight of what's really going on. (What would have happened
       if we accepted Al Gore's "invention" of the internet?)

Stephen Zisk

Stephen Zisk                      MediaBridge Technologies
email:     100 Nagog Park
tel:    978-795-7040              Acton, MA 01720    USA
fax:    978-795-7100    

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