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Read the manual

posted Mar 20, 2017, 3:28 PM by Viktor Zólyomi   [ updated Mar 20, 2017, 3:28 PM ]
`Read the manual,' occasionally worded as `read the fine manual,' but most often used in the form `read the fucking manual,' is a favorite expression of software developers and computer system administrators, especially those who don't know how to write a decent manual. Few people know that this phrase pre-dates the invention of computers.

In the 1840s the increasing trade traffic to and from Con City prompted the construction of the north-south train line. Work began in 1843 and was overseen by a local man named George Klein. Three months into the construction he rode a steam engine down the first mile of tracks in order to demonstrate his progress to the Mayor. The train derailed a third of the way and very nearly killed both the overseer and the conductor.

Upon inspecting the tracks, he was baffled to find that the two train rails were in fact not laid evenly. Rather, the distance between them steadily decreased from the starting point of the track by as much as five inches over the one mile length of the track. When he questioned his workers about that, a man named Theo Smith confessed that he had known about the error, except he thought it had not been an error at all.

`I did everything just like it was on the posters, Mister Klein,' he said. `The further along the track you go, the closer the rails are supposed to be to each other. I did think it was a bit strange, but I thought, the poster had to be correct. So I took a hacksaw and shortened the crossties, each slightly more than the previous one, to make sure we close the gap between the rails as we lay them.'

Witness accounts report that George Klein stood in perfect silence in the room for two whole minutes before he grabbed Mister Smith by the collar, dragged him to the riverbank, and tossed him into the water. It was then that he yelled to the drowning man: `Next time, Theo, read the fucking manual!'

Theo Smith was rescued by one of his friends who, along with Smith himself, was fired the next day, while the overseer proceeded with the repairs of the faulty track. The day after, the Mayor learned that Mister Klein had ordered the entire track to be pulled up and laid again, which prompted the Mayor to fire the overseer and his entire workforce. The track, which over the years cemented Con City's status as the center of commerce in Con County and ruined any chance that settlements like Brickton might have had at building a strong economy, was in the end built by craftsmen from Brickton; the very same craftsmen who later popularized the expression `if only I had known.'