Backhoe, n. <bak-ho>. A massive, piloted machine/vehicle used for excavation. It has a large bucket and uses this to dig.

This story was related to me during the Sendmail tutorial at LISA 99 in Seattle, Washington, USA. During his tutorial, Eric Allman told us the following (my apologies for how badly I'm probably messing it up):

Once upon a time, on the Berkeley campus, there was an earthquake. Just prior to this earthquake, a backhoe cut through the only link connecting Berkeley to the outside world. Because of the earthquake, the workers were unwilling to get back in the trench to figure out the extent of the damage. So the fibre break went unfixed for three days.
Did I say this was the only link to the outside world? Not quite. You see, routers have evolved to become almost sentient. When they discover that a link is down, they immediately begin sniffing (here, he sniffs around in the air) to find a new route. What did they find? Lo and behold, a professor's home PC was connected to the campus network via an ISDN connection, and was coincidentally networked to his wife's PC, which had a dial-up account with a local ISP. The routers then begin to send all of Berkeley's traffic through this (33.6? 56k?) modem connection. So, for these three days, Berkeley is connected through this insane route.

The moral of the story is then this: Backhoes are the only known natural enemy of fibre.

A little more precisely, a backhoe is an add-on device that attaches to the back of a tractor or a front-end loader. The backhoe attachment consists of some controls, a jointed boom arm, and a bucket. There are usually several interchangeable buckets. The bucket is, as stated, used to dig or to scoop up and load materials into a dump truck or other cargo vehicle. The backhoe/bucket linkage usually allows the bucket to swing through 180 degrees of motion (or more) which provides flexibility in digging angles and options (for squaring off holes, and so on).

Sometimes the backhoe is operated from the cab of the tractor/front-end loader. Higher end models have their own rear-facing seat for better control and visibility. Most models also have hydraulic outriggers which can be lowered on either side of the host vehicle. These provide stability. The boom arm plus bucket is typically between 6 and 12 feet long, fully extended.

The configuration with a front-end loader is common for construction jobs, and this whole vehicle is often called a backhoe for simplicity's sake.

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