When designing the first rockets, early engineers had to consider transportation along the ground to their destinations. They chose to make the boosters half the width of the road so they could be loaded onto a truck and transported after manufacturing.
Trucks - as it were - are limited to the width of the road and were originally built to be of similar width to train tracks, which until the advent of automobiles were the only long-distance terrestrial transport available and a spacing-unit comfortable to those who manufactured the first cars and roads.
Trains and carriages were of a similar width - having descended from old European standards which were based on their roads which were patterned after the roads first carved out by the Roman Empire.
The Roman roads were little more than solidified paths which were packed by the grooves made by chariots - which of course were merely the width of two horses.
The punchline of the joke was something like "This goes to show that engineers just follow the horses asses that came before them."
Good story, eh? Its truthfulness notwithstanding - it makes a good point. I have a term for it - I call it "trimming the ham". Since I already have my slippers and pipe, and you, nestled by the fireplace in love-worn jammies, I'll spin another yarn.
There were once two college roommates, preparing their first big meal out in the world on a crisp fall day. Like any intelligent and innocent country girls, they decided that a ham would make a super-duper centerpiece to their array of delicious and healthful accouterments: baked beans, salad and cornbread. Before placing the ham in the pot, the sweet, amateur cook took a large knife and proceeded to cut the ends off - safely of course.
Her roommate - a curious girl with golden locks and a chocolate brown complexion inquired innocently: "What the fuck are you doing?"
"That is how you cook a ham. You trim the ends off before cooking."
"That's fucking crazy. I've never seen that shit," she replied coyly.
"Watch your fucking mouth," the cook suggested.
"Fuck you!" The golden-hair girl objected.
"Fine - I'll call my mom and we'll settle this. I bet 20 bucks I'm right."
"You're on, bitch!" Goldilocks agreed to the proposal.
So they skipped off to the public phone where the girl with golden braids and the cook called home.
"Hey mom, is that you?" She said into the phone. "Shut the hell up Sissy, and put mom on the phone you little brat!" she added, cheerily.
"Mom - you cut the ends off of your ham, right?" pause, "OK, so you do?" The black girl with the golden hair frowned. "I see - grandma does it that way too? Uh huh... she is a great cook... OK... yeah, thanks mom - bye... Please send money," she added with love.
The ham chef beamed with pride and informed her lovely roommate that, "You see? I told you, I fucking told you... now give me my twenty bucks."
"Listen," she nodded, "Your mom, you, even your granny are all nuts."
"Twenty... dollars," she repeated, ready for her congratulations.
"OK - enough of that shit," Goldie interjected. "Let's call your Granny - I gotta know what's wrong with your family."
So back to the phone the happy chef turned - this time to ring her loving grandmother. This time, she held the phone up so both could hear.
Ring ring... ring ring... ring ring
"Old people," she said with familial pride, "sleep all the goddamn time." Eventually the phone picked up.
"Hi Granny!" She shouted courteously
"Oh hello Deary! You know, I was just talking about you the other day to Mildred, you remember Mildred, right? Well - you know what her grandson is doing..."
"Sounds good Granny," she interjected, "Hey, I have a cooking emergency I need some help with."
Grandma cooed on the other end of the line.
"You cut the ends off of hams, right? Mom said you did."
Grandma laughed, "Oh dear - I haven't done that in years! I don't do that anymore."
The cooks grin and Goldie's frown switched places. "Why not?"
"I have a larger pan now. You see, Dear, I cut the ends off to fit in my old small pan."
Did you enjoy that? I hope so... a modern classic if I say so myself (which I don't). The moral is quite clear, though - "because it's always been that way" is no excuse to continue doing stupid things. Find out why, then adapt to new circumstances. Common wisdom - it seems to me - is rarely very wise.
Do I have a point? Sure. 80 column width programming. Stop. Please, oh please, for the love of Jesus Helguera (Google it) stop adhering to this outdated standard. I have worked with - oh, about 25 different programming teams over the years - and a disturbing majority are obsessed with that 80 column thing. It made sense back with old fixed-width displays, it even made sense a few years ago when people coded via telnet+vi. But not anymore. I hear the same damn arguments: but what if someone needs to connect and edit code in a terminal? You want to know my answer? Fuck 'em. It's 2007 - even terminals can stretch further than 80 column width anymore. Besides, why let those highly unlikely, exceedingly rare situations dictate standards? All editors these days can scroll right or autowrap - only retards and Satanists code remotely. Seriously... all non-trivial projects should have version control. Check out the damn code. If you find yourself modifying code via ssh+emacs (et al), you're probably modifying live code which is punishable by defenestration in some circles.
I'd rather a line be a single operation, even if it is 300 columns long (I have a 23 inch cinema display... are you a professional programmer? yeah, then you should too) even if I had to scroll. If you are a halfway decent coder those rare long lines should be far and few between - making the rest of your code more readable overall.
"But Eric, I travel a lot and have to code on my tiny laptop." Yeah, me too, but most people don't. Don't you care about them, you selfish punk? Please, think of the children.
I just started a new job last week, and I see a weird mix. Some lines are 150 columns wide, and some are broken into max 80 column chunks. Why?
Of course, that whole thing fits on my screen - but even if it didn't at least I know it's one operation. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to find my medication.