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El Camino Real

El Camino Real (Spanish, the royal highway) was a highway linking the Catholic missions in California during the Spanish colonial era.

Many streets throughout California today bear the name of this famous road, often with little factual relation to the original. Those that do follow portions of the path of the original highway are marked with distinctive bells as a historical marker.

Navigation on the San Francisco Peninsula is usually done relative to El Camino Real, which defines logical north and south even though it isn't really north-south in many places. El Camino Real runs right past Stanford University and so is familiar to hackers.

In the FORTRAN language, a 'real' quantity is a number typically precise to seven significant digits, and a `double precision' quantity is a larger floating-point number, precise to perhaps fourteen significant digits (other languages have similar 'real' types). When a hacker from MIT, Guy L. Steele[?], visited Stanford in 1976, he remarked what a long road El Camino Real was. Making a pun on 'real', he started calling it 'El Camino Double Precision' -- but when Steele was told that the road was hundreds of miles long, he renamed it 'El Camino Bignum', and that name has stuck.

In recent years, the synonym "El Camino Virtual" has been reported as an alternate at IBM and Amdahl[?] sites in the Silicon Valley. Mathematically literate hackers in the Valley have also been heard to refer to some major cross-street intersecting El Camino Real as "El Camino Imaginary". One popular theory is that the intersection is located near Moffett Field - where they keep all those complex planes.

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