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The Golden Child

November 30, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

[ UPDATE 12/16 –  I met with Metro’s technical lead for OBS (On-board systems) shortly after I posted this. She gave me an overview of the systems that are installed on each bus plus a quick rundown of the issues that are most frequently causing late pullouts. We discussed the possibility of me spending some time diagnosing issues in the field.  While that hasn’t happened yet, there have been some software upgrades that *might* have fixed the issues I was having.  Then again, I’ve also modified my login routine a bit in response to the information I’ve learned.  Since I’m not actively trying to break the system, there may still be some gotchas out there.  Still, I’ve had a relatively stress-free week. If the streak continues I’ll record a video of my login routine that may be useful if other drivers are still encountering the “check-mark of death” ]

Hacker – An enthusiastic and skillful computer programmer or user

A long-time manager of mine at Microsoft used to call me “The Golden Child”.  Why?  If I recall correctly, he said that because I had an uncanny ability to get things working. Time and time again, he’d ask me to turn a seemingly worthless set of data into something he could use for a report or presentation.  Inevitably, this required massaging a non-standard data feed using a batch process or some code.  During one review he said “I wouldn’t trade you for 10 employees when you are on your game”.  (Of course, he immediately followed that comment up by saying that when I wasn’t interested in a project I was “Useless as tits on a boar”. Hmmm… Put that in the “things to work on” column.)

All that said, I’m basically a classic Hacker.  I love to tinker with things, see what makes them tick, and make them work better.  Back then, I liked to hack on spreadsheets, databases, and servers. Our group collected various bread crumbs of data on Microsoft’s Product Support operations and did our best to create tools that managers used to improve Microsoft’s support operations – back when we answered calls here in the US. Our small team had many talented individuals with complementary skills. It was one of the best work environments I’ve ever been in.

Fast forward to today:  I’ve tired of the learning something new every day treadmill and decided long ago to hang up my hacker hat by taking a relatively low-tech job driving a bus.  These days I’m generally content not knowing what goes on behind the scenes.  Yet, from time to time, the hacker in me encounters things in my job that I desperately want to fix – Things that I would be seriously motivated to fix, if given the chance.  The latest is what I like to call “The check-mark of death” which occurs during the boot cycle of our radio system.  (Which, by the way, runs on Windows CE)  This seemingly random problem occurs after I type in my ID and password at which point my radio freezes.  Since the boot sequence takes about 7 minutes, I know I’m going to be running late if I see this screen.  Now, if I had access to the source code, I’d compile in some diagnostic messages, and work with VM to use those messages to gather more data on where the code is freezing.  At this point, I’d either tinker with the code or, more likely, work with the vendor to rewrite that code to make it more robust.  Sounds simple, right?

Alas, I’m relatively sure Metro doesn’t have the source code and farming me out to the vendor, Init, is unlikely.  That said, I’d relish an opportunity to get involved in diagnosing this problem and getting useful feedback to the developers/vendor.  So how about it, Metro, care to see if my manager at Microsoft was right about my nickname?  (“The Golden Child” – Not the “worthless” one…)

Categories: Other, Transit
  1. November 30, 2011 at 2:58 pm

    7 minutes to boot a radio? that is ridiculous … my macbook air laptop computer boots in 14 seconds.

  2. November 30, 2011 at 4:43 pm

    Eh I agree with you. I find the state of our public IT works to be sad. This shouldn’t’ve gotten in past a beta stage, and I’m amazed we don’t have a right to the source code, given that we paid to have it developed.. (I presume…)

  3. NickBob
    November 30, 2011 at 5:26 pm

    Nobody likes a braggart, Werner.
    That said, he has a strong point. Fixing a WinCE setup in 2012? Even if the principals agreed to let you do it, Init isn’t going to be selling their upgraded software to very many buyers. How are your iOS chops? An iPad, IPad Touch or iPhone solution seems like one that would be modern, marketable and worth everyone’s while.

  4. NickBob
    November 30, 2011 at 5:35 pm

    OK, 2″ further reflection, yes, the system is old but paid for and already installed. Good luck n the fix. But it sounds as if your hacker jones is hungry, so my previous advice stands for that, and as a retirement package as a nice bonus. Lots of systems might be in the market to replace systems that require 7″ or more to boot.

  5. November 30, 2011 at 6:57 pm

    NB: The system is brand new and still being rolled out – that actually may contribute to the issues we’re having since they have two different AVL systems. I don’t pretend to understand what this system has to connect with and how difficult it is to implement. As frustrated as I am as both a consumer of Real-Time data and as a driver trying to log into the system, I know what it’s like to work in an environment where many (most?) variables are outside of your control. Until I learn otherwise, I tend to give Metro’s IT department the benefit of the doubt.

    I am only interested in offering to help out, if some notes from the field could be useful. I’ve spoken with folks inside Metro’s IT division that seem hungry for more data from the field. The trouble is boiling it down and making the feedback useful.

  6. November 30, 2011 at 9:28 pm

    I got the “check-mark of death” twice last week (same coach). Both times I didn’t push the “ok” button immediately after login because I had recalled seeing a memo saying that we shouldn’t and should just let it cycle through to route/run login. This week I’ve just started pushing the “ok” button and haven’t had a problem *yet*.

    • November 30, 2011 at 9:37 pm

      Hmmm… Well I always hit the OK button since I’ve figured out it really doesn’t matter. Your comment adds weight to my suspicions. I’ll continue to hit the OK button since waiting means that much more time until I know I need to call the coordinator on my cell phone.

  7. Jeff Welch
    December 1, 2011 at 3:33 pm

    Ya know – I’d settle for a freakin’ reset button INSIDE the bus that didn’t involve shutting down all coach electronics. I did see this once – on a unit that wasn’t properly locked.

    BTW – “tits on a boar” are PROFOUNDLY useful to baby boars, so usefulness is based less on who you are than who your audience is, so keep on keepin’ on.


    • December 1, 2011 at 8:15 pm

      I’m with you on the reset button. I’m pretty sure the mechanics just “knife” the bus like we’re told not to but I don’t know that for sure. Whatever – I’ll just continue to follow policy.

      RE: “Tits on a boar” – Yeah, I wondered the same thing, but that was definitely a common phrase used around the office. If you Google it, the Urban Slang dictionary confirms the meaning, although I hope he meant the “waste” of space meaning and not “lacking class” one. I’ll admit to being useless on certain projects…

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