zerosleeps

Since 2010

Another rant about Melbourne's public transport

I’m going to have to let my beloved TripView iOS app go. And before I go any further, the problem I’m about to complain about is not the fault of TripView: it’s a classic case of shite-in-shite-out.

I was in the centre of Melbourne and couldn’t be bothered walking home so I cracked open TripView to see how long I’d have to wait for a route 86 tram to take me home:

Screenshot of TripView

Hey there’s one just moments away and if I miss that there’s one 5 minutes behind it. I did miss that first one, but 5 minutes later a route 86 showed up… that was not going to the stop I wanted. It was running a modified route and terminating at Southern Cross Station: 3 stops from where I was, but 6 stops from where I wanted to be.

No drama. The city is busy this weekend with the Grand Prix, and the majority of people were indeed going to Southern Cross Station. You can see that trams weren’t running to schedule either, and it’s pretty common for Yarra Trams to turn some stock around early to help get things moving again when this happens, especially when there are more trams just a few minutes behind.

But the tram behind that one was doing the same.

And the one behind that…

Now I also have the official(?) Yarra Trams “tramTRACKER” app on my iPhone but it’s ugly and it crashes all the time so I only keep it around as a backup. So what was it saying about this situation?

Screenshot of tramTRACKER

It’s correctly telling me there aren’t any real 86 trams running until 22:07 - 9 hours from the time these screenshots were all taken. I want to be clear I am not complaining about the service changes - there’s a big event in town and things have to be moved around to accommodate it, but by this point I’d waited 15 minutes and watched 3 trams go past because the information I was being fed was crap. There were plenty of transport options available to me, but we can only make decisions based on the information we have, right?

So where was TripView’s crap information coming from? Why the Victorian State Governments Public Transport department!

For the rest of this rant pretend, please, that you’re a visitor to Melbourne who doesn’t want to install a fucking app just to get tram times, and you’ve done the obvious thing by pointing your browser at ptv.vic.gov.au. (By this time I’d walked to Southern Cross Station.)

Screenshot of trip options from ptv.vic.gov.au

(Round of applause for the “Feedback” and chat shit covering up the information everyone goes to this site for, by the way.)

So PTV, who you’d think would be the canonical source of truth for all things public transport, are clueless about the route changes and are telling me it’s a ~20 minute journey based on the start and end points I gave it. Ah but what’s the wee red exclamation mark over the tram icon? Let’s crack open that top journey and see:

Screenshot of trip from ptv.vic.gov.au

Well okay there’s a disruption, but it clearly looks like I can hop on a tram and 6 stops/11 minutes later I’ll be where I want to be. Which is a lie. Let’s drill down in to that “Disruption” thing again:

Screenshot of disruption information from ptv.vic.gov.au

And there it is. Buried in a wall of text and partly obscured by that fucking “Feedback” thing, we discover what we’ve known for 5 paragraphs: route 86 trams are not running in Docklands between 05:00 and 22:00.

Why doesn’t PTV’s journey planner know about this (and in turn TripView)? What’s the point of having an otherwise pretty cool “where are you and where do you want to be” service that returns shit? Bad information is often worse than no information at all! And why are there multiple sources for the same information? And who do I write to to ask what’s being done about stuff like this? It’s embarrassing, just like myki, and the messaging about our awesome free tram zone, and the definition of other zones.

Best, first, favourite: The West Wing

In episode 221 of Reconcilable Differences Merlin Mann introduced the world to the the idea of “best, first, favourite” for things like TV shows, movie franchises, book series etc. It sounds like a simple premise, but when you stop and try to apply it to something you love the results can be surprising.

Here are my answers for the greatest TV show ever created: The West Wing.

Best

I reckon almost every The West Wing fan would give the same answer for this one. Season 2 episode 22: “Two Cathedrals”. It’s the final episode of season 2, and it ties the preceding 4-or-5 episodes together magnificently.

The final scene is more of a bombshell than a cliffhanger, but one of the best traits of The West Wing is that it doesn’t treat the audience like idiots. We’re hungry for the next episode because it’s great TV, not because the last episode drops a cheap teaser or leaves some business unfinished.

First

This is the episode you’d recommend to someone if they’d never seen the show, but you wanted to wow them with a representative sample of what it’s like.

This one is tricky - most of the episodes stand by themselves really well (perhaps less so in the last couple of seasons where continuity does matter much more). That being said, some of the episodes that made my short list for this category do contain spoilers for some common threads, so were immediately eliminated.

So my answer is season 1 episode 6: “Mr. Willis of Ohio”. It’s got aspirational politics, great humour, and running-a-country realness. All of our heroes are featured, and there are a couple of scenes that take us outside the west wing which is relatively unusual, but I think perhaps make this episode more approachable to a newbie.

Favourite

Another difficult one to answer but only because there are so many to choose from. But I think my favourite episode is season 2 episode 10: Noël.

It’s an award-winning episode, and it kicks me right in the feels. I love when Aaron Sorkin plays around with time like he does in this episode, and the execution of the transitions between past and present are done perfectly. This episode introduces us to Stanley Keyworth, and we get to meet the hilarious Bernard Thatch. The set looks amazing when they Christmas it up as well, so bonus for that.

Honourable mentions to “The Stackhouse Filibuster”, “Twenty Five”, and “20 Hours in America”.

It is OK to use Unicode everywhere

Terence Eden being right, as per usual. I challenge his opening statement though:

We live in the future now. It is OK to use Unicode everywhere.

It should be OK, but in the world of enterprise software we most certainly do not live in the future and it definitely is not OK to use Unicode everywhere.

I like Eden’s pre-emptive “but what about” arguments though. I’ve heard all of these, always from people who forget English is not the only language in existence.

Firefox bug 1750706 has been resolved

Hey look! That’s my bug!

The piece of software I’ve built my career around defaults to checking the HTTP Referer header with each request, and if it doesn’t get exactly the value it wants, it invalidates the session. Game over.

It’s infuriating: the header is optional and was never intended to be used for anything remotely related to session security. And yet, back when I logged this bug, I had to really fight with the software vendor to get them to disable this check. We found that a lot of mobile browsers don’t include the Referer header when reloading a page, and services like Microsoft’s Defender SmartScreen and Google’s Safe Browsing don’t include the header at all when doing their remote scans. Ad blockers often strip the header, privacy-conscious users might disable this header, browser plugins that intercept file downloads - like Abode PDF plugins - don’t include the header. Heck even duplicating browser tabs and opening browser developer tools was enough to trigger an abrupt logout.

It affected a lot of our customers - they simply couldn’t use our service. But the vendor stood firm on their belief that this behaviour enhanced the security of their product, and didn’t seem concerned that it meant hundreds of our customers couldn’t even use the product. We were never able to come up with an explanation we could give our customers that didn’t make us sound like idiots either.

Anyway, that’s the story behind the reason for me logging that Firefox bug.