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Coding the Emperor's New Clothes

The tailors had been making fine garments for many years. They received a fair wage and those in the Emperor's court who received the clothing paid an annual fee to receive all the clothing they might need. Because of their skill, they made the clothing without visible seams. The people were happy and the tailors busy.

Then the new plan began. It was better than sliced thread, the tailors were told by the scribes. In order for the Emperor to fully appreciate what his people were getting, they needed to record it as they worked. They would now be paid by the seam. There had to be seams, the scribes said, and it was just a matter of recording their locations.

Not every tailor could see the seams at first. But it was clear to some, and they were asked to help train the others. Although they progressed slowly, eventually most were able to distinguish the subtle differences and mark them appropriately on the tally sheet.

It was very important, of course, because if the marks were not made, the Emperor's scribes, who were of the sort that could not appreciate the garments themselves, would not pay the tailors. But since they tended to be suspicious of things they could not understand, if a tailor recorded too many, he would surely be punished.

Some tailors began making the clothing with extra seams. This took more time, of course, and made the clothing look funny. It was bulkier and did not fit as well either. But it did pay.

Some continued to make the seamless clothing but were convinced that they could see seams and marked their tally sheets nearly as skillfully as they made the garments. They were praised for their work and suitably rewarded.

Occasionally, the scribes would return to the tailors and point out errors. Previously they had all agreed that the seam was in a certain location, but on further review, it was actually elsewhere. The tailors usually were able to see the error of their ways. Sometimes they even struck their heads with their hands and said that they knew it all along and should have said something before.

But some tailors did not wholeheartedly join their fellows. They not only continued to make the garments the old way but also spent little time with their tally sheets. They were unlearned in the growing discipline of seamology. The people who were fortunate enough to receive their garments, however, were very happy. And the tailors, although not as prosperous as they might have been, were very pleased with their work and greatly gratified by the satisfaction of those who benefited from it.

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