Standard Problems

Subject: Standard Problems
From: Ray Bruman x2325 <rbruman -at- TURING -dot- RAYNET -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 24 Jun 1994 08:26:23 PDT

"David L. Bergart" <bodafu -at- CCVAX -dot- SINICA -dot- EDU -dot- TW> writes:

> Before temperature scales were weeded down to the two we use today,
> there were all sorts of creative scales. My favorite used the temperature of
> the dirt in the basement of a house in Paris (why am I not surprised?) as the
> low temperature reference, and the rectal temperature of a cow (an ISO cow?)
> in a field at noon on a sunny summer day as the high temperature reference.
> Now *that* is what I call a standard.

Yay!! This is wonderful! It's time to announce my book project, called
"Standard Problems."

It seems to me that whenever human beings encounter an opportunity to
standardize an otherwise arbitrary choice, they screw it up. Examples:

If you think A4 versus "US letter" is fun, why not propose that your
enterprise save paper and insist that all pages be only 8.0 by 10.5
inches? Of course, you'll need new 3-ring binders, manila folders
and so on, but your suppliers will be happy to warehouse both kinds of
every paper-related merchandise. Won't they? You bet they will, if you
are the United States Department of Defense! They only recently gave
up on this amazing military specification.

The human urge to screw up standards is more powerful than the urge
to save lives or billions of dollars. Driving on the left No!! No!!
It's Driving on the Right!! that causes people to step off the curb
and be killed because they are looking to the right No!! that's WRONG!
when they travel. American car manufacturers still seem mystified at
the poor sales in Japan, though they never switched the steering wheels.
If the Japanese manufacturers were that dumb, none of us would be in
Accord. (Sorry about that.)

Airplanes have run out of fuel, killing all aboard, because of confusion
over gallons versus liters when they refueled.

The United States is NOT the only country in the world stubbornly
sticking to the "English" system of weights and measures. There is
also the Sultanate of Brunei. And in Italy, household plumbing
pipe uses American inch standards.

Every country in the world has a standard for electrical plugs and
receptacles. In fact there are 137 different national standards.

When telegraphy was young, it made sense to put a slash through a zero
to distinguish it from the letter "O" because there weren't many
zeroes to transmit. When computers were new, they almost never had
alphabetical characters to deal with, so they decided to slash the
letter "O." Then came telecommunications.

OK, Technical Writers! Send me your stories! I will give you
editorial credit and attribution. Use E-mail rather than annoying
the readers of TECHWR-L who aren't interested in Standard Problems.

Ray Bruman Cogito, ergo remuneror.
Raynet Corp.
rbruman -at- raynet -dot- com I think, therefore I am paid.

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