Random Post: Another Sydney Trains Meltdown, TfNSW E-mail Blunder, iOS8, Opal, etc.

It’s been another busy week, but there’s really not that much variety of things to report on. The mind is still clouded with many observations and rants, so lets get them off my chest.

Another Sydney Trains Meltdown

It doesn’t seem that long ago I mentioned a meltdown caused by a derailment in the City Circle, and it seems this week, signal failure in the City Circle was the new demon.

September 19th. A Friday afternoon. The sun begins to set, it’s just after 5pm. Everybody wants to get home. We even have two footy finals matches running.

Chaos. Due to signal failure, trains running out of the city were delayed and out of timetable order. Worse still, trains towards the city were at a familiar standstill, sitting at the minimum signal segment distances from each other. It was a bit of a surreal feeling to have witnessed this again. The first time, I didn’t manage to capture anything, but this time, I whipped out my phone for a quick and ugly video.

I was on a Campbelltown via Granville service, run by a C-set, starting my video just after leaving Redfern station. The train takes a slower than usual “cruise” out of the city, no doubt being slowed down by the trains in front (possibly all stations), all of which were delayed. The train makes a stop at Newtown, passengers get on and off, but the citybound services haven’t inched a bit. We’ve passed at least one of almost every sort of rolling stock, before, near the end of the video, the trains are allowed to progress another signal segment as they slowly start being “re-injected” into the City Circle loop. It’s the bottleneck of the system, where all the lines meet and cross over one another. Consider it the traffic jam of the rail network. Still, I’m sure many people weren’t happy about it, but at least I just made my bus connection that day.

Transport for NSW TDX E-mail Blunder

I’m not sure if many would be aware, but Transport for NSW operates a service known as Transport Data Exchange (TDX) which provides geographical data about transport facilities. This particular program requires a sign-up and part of that is subscribing to update e-mails.

This week, they made a big blunder. It’s not one which is unique, or even new. But it’s severe nonetheless. In their haste to try and inform us all about the new Location Facilities dataset, they inadvertently placed the whole list of e-mails into CC rather than BCC, thus exposing all the identities of the subscribers. A sum total of 705 e-mail addresses, mine included, were exposed.

This is a major privacy issue for several reasons:

  • It potentially exposes the private and undisclosed e-mail addresses of numerous subscribers to other people, allowing for unsolicited spam (i.e. sale of the list to a spam agency), or for other members to directly contact other TDX users (i.e. unsolicited contact).
  • It also exposes certain corporate identities as utilizing or having something to do with the TDX system, and may affect the future businesses of these companies.

If there’s anything I could do less with, it’s spam.

tdxfail1

It seems they were quick to react, within a minute, the first attempted retraction occurred. A second attempt was made four minutes later, with the corrected version sent almost simultaneously. Unfortunately, for them, retractions don’t take effect on non-Outlook/Exchange servers and is merely a polite note that says “please delete the message, my bad.”

Luckily for them, I will show some discretion and not publish the list of e-mail addresses or even the domains on which they are hosted on. I hate spam just as much as anyone else, but it only takes one from the 750 to expose these secrets. The worst part, I suppose, is that legally it was sent to me as addressed, so there’s really no argument against it (bold, my emphasis).

This email (including any attachments) may contain confidential and/or legally privileged information and is intended only to be read or used by the addressee(s). If you have received this email in error, please notify the sender by return email, delete this email and destroy any copy. Any use, distribution, disclosure or copying of this email by a person who is not the intended recipient is not authorised.

It seems a bit strange given they realized the blunder, to then wait for three hours and twelve minutes before finally sending out an apology. The full body text is blockquoted below:

Transport for NSW would like to offer its apologies for the error in today’s TDX subscriber email. Unfortunately our usual processes were not followed and human error resulted in the wrong email field (CC instead of BCC) being populated.

Transport for NSW takes pride in ensuring the security of data and customer satisfaction. Rest assured we will take steps to ensure this type of event will not happen again.

Users who have any concerns are encouraged to contact us by return email.

Regards

TDX Team

Given that e-mail has been around for over 20 years, and is considered a rather antiquated method of communication, it’s a surprise that blunders like this still happen. It seems rather likely that they aren’t using any list management software which could avoid this sort of thing happening, which most mailing lists use because of the anti-spam regulations which require an unsubscribe link and method to be workable and prominently placed in the e-mails. In fact, none of the TDX e-mails even feature this simple feature.

It’s a bit too late as well, as anyone who is concerned can’t really see any satisfaction. The damage has already been done. I put this up as an example of how important procedures and mechanisms are to avoid these blunders, and I hope that I can hold them to their word.

Apple, oh Apple …

It seems the hype train doesn’t stop with Apple. It’s one week in, and some things are becoming clearer. I’m not much of a fan of their products, and some will know me for being a hater, but I’m over it. I really am. I’m tired of fighting a battle with no productive outcome, trying to educate those who don’t care, trying to persuade those who aren’t interested. We each have a preference, so lets just agree to disagree.

What seems to be even worse is that there’s too much bashing and not enough concentrating on the real matter at hand – the technology and what it can (and can’t) do, and how the release of the new products will (potentially) change the course of history. Even facts are being thrown out the window with some dubiously researched “infographics” which perpetuate incorrect information just to troll the fanboys.

What I can say is this – if you like technology, you will see it for what it is. For example, look at these glorious teardowns of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus by iFixit. Gawk at the optical image stabilized camera that features a lens suspension and electromagnetic drive very similar to the focus optics on a CD-ROM drive. Marvel at the fact that the accelerometer is providing high resolution data to the CPU which then drives the lens. Look at the marvellous multi-band LTE front end chips. Be annoyed at the 1Gb of RAM that they still insist on having, but then remember that you have less RAM to keep refreshed and that might save some energy. Be delighted that repair isn’t as bad as it used to be, and that somebody somewhere listened. Less glue, even the battery glue is removable. Isn’t that neat?

I would be happy if other manufacturers adopted the image stabilization on their smartphone cameras, because, lets face it, low-light images are quite the average use case and with small sensors and small lenses, long exposure times are needed for a lower-noise image. It makes sense.

I’m also happy to see that Apple has embraced NFC technology, at least, the hardware. Their canvassing the banks also helps, because it forces them to consider using NFC even more than before. It’s unfortunate that the present plan sees NFC being restricted for Apple Pay only at least for the next year. As a result, it seems like they want NFC to not miss out on the mobile payments but still keep their feet in with the Bluetooth LE “beacon” technology. No NFC triggers, Wi-Fi direct bootstrap, Bluetooth initiation or even NDEF contact sharing for the Apple gear … aww.

This release seems to be breaking free from the Jobs ideals, and going with a bigger screen really helps everyone. It may even cannibalize their iPad line a little bit, but I wonder how well the apps will adapt to the iPhone finally seeing a 16:9 ratio, so wide-screen movies and TV can fill the screen.

Will people buy it? No doubt. Will people break it? Of course.

Will people get trolled? No doubt about that as well. What a waste of perfectly good technology … but then again, I shouldn’t be surprised at how silly some people can be.

As for the watch, there isn’t that much information about it, but it seems that the lack of sapphire glass on the iPhone is related to problems with it shattering on impact when it is in large pieces. We’ll have to wait until February to see the watch, apparently. There’s also been a mad rush for iPod Classics, it seems, as users aren’t willing to give up bulk local storage for “cloud”.

Apple Delivers iOS 8

On 17th September, Apple opened up iOS 8 updates for all compatible devices. Seeing as I have a compatible “the new iPad”, which is not so new anymore and isn’t really being used, I decided to dive in feet first and do the update. Like many others, the first port of call was the “over the air” updater … which bore no good news …

iPad-OTA-Update

A 1.1Gb OTA update needs 5.8Gb of storage to perform the update. That’s pretty extreme. Of course, you do get most of the space back as some of it is used only temporarily for unpacking/verifying, but on a 16Gb iPad which only has 12.2Gb of actual user usable space, it is very hard to find.

iTunes-Other-Drama

There was another side to the coin too – my last iOS update hung at the Apple logo, and only recovered after a hard reboot. This seems to have left some “corrupted” or unrecognized files that didn’t get cleaned up and is listed as Other. That’s about 2Gb right there. I already cleared off all of my photos …

So there was only one course of action, update via iTunes with a full back-up and full restore. That went off without a problem, especially because I removed all the audio and video, as well as reduced the app usage by exporting some files from the app containers into my local storage.

The update went without a hitch and the download rate was pretty fast, served from the local TPG Akamai cache. My impressions of iOS8 so far is that it is rather similar in appearance to iOS7, with a few refinements:

  • Changeable keyboards with predictive text that looks more like Android. I like this a lot because I’m predominantly an Android user and it makes things a little easier.
  • Photos app has Timelapse feature – not configurable as to interval/speed up ratio but it does work. It also now has timer … <sarcasm> I wonder what that could be useful for … </sarcasm>
  • Safari a little less obtrusive when reading pages (minimises navigation bar), has bookmarks open by default on a new tab making it fast to get to your favourite pages. Still retains the “speed dial” style of page icons as well (common to most tablet browsers).
  • Task switcher now has contacts/conversations above, for quick replying to active conversations.
  • Notifications can be pulled to type a quick reply or interact with the application.
  • iMessage now does audio.
  • Mail has a few more options for sorting/flagging mail and receiving selective notifications for certain threads.
  • Siri does audio tagging (although, I never use Siri anyway).
  • Family sharing is a new feature, although I don’t really have anything to share right now.
  • iCloud has been upgraded to iCloud Drive which performs more like a drive. Unfortunately, upgrading to iCloud Drive requires accessing devices run iOS8 or OSX Mavericks or newer, causing compatibility issues for those with older hardware.
  • Promised extensions should ease the burden of file interchange between applications instead of having the kludgey “Open in …” business which makes a million copies of your files and sucks up the space. Haven’t actually worked with an app that uses it though.
  • Some new animation affects, not that I like or need these at all.
  • Better permissions control with location services, you are prompted to allow/deny even for background apps that use location.
  • New tips app to help newcomers understand some of the improvements in the new OS.

There’s probably a mountain of changes under the hood as well, but so far, I haven’t experienced any show-stopping issues. But then again, I don’t use my iPad much. On the whole, it doesn’t feel any slower on the new iPad, although some others have been complaining of slowdowns on the iPhones. I’m not sure, but as people use their phones more and more, their library of content and background apps increase, and performance degradation is the expected result.

Google Retiring My Maps for Maps Engine Lite

I’ve been a happy user of the “classic” My Maps service from Google to do plotting of geographically related things – e.g. the DTRS plots. With the introduction of the new Maps, I noticed they had a new Google Maps Engine Lite, which I tried but I couldn’t quite get the hang of.

Recently, I received this e-mail from Google:

Hi,
We want to let you know that in the coming months, we’re upgrading the content you created in My Maps. All of the maps that you’ve created will automatically move to the new Google My Maps (previously called Google Maps Engine). Classic My Maps on maps.google.com will no longer be available. You don’t have to take any action to ensure all your content will be upgraded.
If you don’t want to wait to start using the new Google My Maps, you can begin migrating your maps today.

1. Open the new My Maps.
2. Click Upgrade now to get started.
The new My Maps is a more powerful maps creation tool that makes it easier to edit and share maps you’ve made. Just like with classic My Maps, you can work on a map with others, save driving directions, add photos and videos, and more. With the new Google My Maps, you can also do things like:

• Share your map similar to how it works for a Google Doc.
• Use different colors to make parts of your map stand out.
• Label your features directly on the map.
• Import locations from a spreadsheet.
• Organize your places with layers.

For more information, please see our FAQ.
Thanks for using Google My Maps.
Happy mapping,
The Google Maps Team

It seems that nothing is safe when it’s on the cloud. Old services are forcibly retired, which leaves you wondering if it will break anything in your application, or whether any features are moved, changed or lost. For now, at least, I am free to stay until forced over, and I can still export KML files of my plots as an offline backup, so that’s not too bad.

Yahoo! Mail Search Goes Down Gracefully

If there’s a way errors in services should be handled, this is probably one of the better ones. Informative, non-panic inducing (unless you’re chasing a deadline), and accurate. I like it.

yahoo-mail-search-down

Opal Card Stuff

I’ve been catching trains and buses as usual, and I’ve come across a few interesting things. I’ve heard a new announcement that’s being played on some of the Warratah trains which is worded “If you have an Opal card, remember to tap off before you leave the station.” The Warratah trains were also seen running a new display board message pertaining to open alcoholic drinks.

I’ve come across a bus driver who was very misguided about how the Opal system works. He kept trying to tell me that if I catch a bus and a train, that even paying the Adult Opal fare is less than the cost of buying old concession tickets. His reasoning to me was that if you changed from a bus to a train within 60 minutes, you won’t have to pay anything!

By his argument, as long as you start off on his bus, and change modes, everything will be free. Of course not! Worse still, he admitted to being recently trained as to Opal ticketing.

Fare System Summary

Personally, I find the Opal system a little complex to explain in one breath – this is because of the multitude of definitions used in calculating the bonuses which act as incentives and replacements for the former ticketing system’s multi-modal and weekly passes. I’ll try to summarize the fare rules in as few points as possible:

  • Travel cap of $15 per day for adult or $7.50 per day for child/youth from Monday to Saturday and $2.50 for Sunday (not including airport station access fees).
  • Airport station access fee is $12.60 for adults and $10.60 for child/youth. Airport station access fee caps to $21 per week for adults and $19 per week for child/youth.
  • Weekly travel cap of $60 per week from Monday to Sunday excluding airport station access fee.
  • A trip is defined as transfers across the same travel mode within 60 minutes. A journey is a single trip or collection of trips within 60 minutes across all modes. A transfer occurs at the end of a single trip, and if it occurs within 60 minutes (or 130 minutes for Manly ferry service), it is counted as a single journey.
  • Trip advantage – same mode transfers (bus to bus, train to train, ferry to ferry) within 60 minutes will count as one trip and one fare, except Manly ferry service where it is 130 minutes from tap on.
  • Weekly travel reward if you take 8 paid jouneys from Monday to Sunday, enjoy free travel for the rest of the week (excluding airport station access fee).
  • Tap on outside of 7-9am and 4-6:30pm on weekdays in the Sydney Trains network, or outside of 6-8am and 4-6:30pm on weekdays in the NSW Trainlink network (exceptions apply) and be eligible for 30% off peak discount off train fare only.
  • Fail to tap off on any mode (except the Manly ferry) and be charged default fare (maximum amount) for that mode. Trip will not count towards weekly travel reward, but will count towards daily travel cap.
  • Tap on can be cancelled by tapping off within 30 minutes of tapping on.
  • Opal days are counted from 4am to 3.59am the following day, with Opal week beginning on Monday.
  • Nightride buses are charged as a bus journey (as opposed to the magnetic train tickets where it was an included mode).
  • In case of trackwork and bus replacement of trains, users must tap on and tap off when available (it seems this would count as a mode change transfer!)
  • In case of bus breakdown, tap off the first bus and tap on the replacement bus within 60 minutes for a same-mode transfer which will not affect the fare.
  • Opal card value expires if you don’t use the card for nine years, however, new Opal cards must be presented to a reader within 60 days.
  • When tapping on, the default fare is taken from your balance, and the difference restored when tapping off. Therefore, it may trigger auto-top-up early.
  • Minimum tap-on balance for trains is $2.31 off peak, $3.30 peak; for ferries is $5.60; for buses $2.10.
  • Bicycles are not charged, and can be carried on all modes except buses.
  • Always tap off, even if gates are open, to ensure correct fare calculation.
  • Interchanges between trains at the same station, or ferries at the same wharf, no need to tap off. Interchanges between ferries at different wharfs or buses require tap off and tap on within 60 minutes to count as a single journey.
  • In case of reader failure, call or visit website to request fare adjustment and report non-working reader or pay default fare.

It is confusing partly because the terms trip and journey are so easily interchangeable in everyday use of the language, and people might not be familiar with the difference between the words as it applies to Opal. It seems my bus driver was mixing up the trip advantage system, which does not apply when transferring between modes.

Observations

I was on Sydney Buses, bus number 4878, a new bus that had different fabric (not the STA text, but instead coloured squares).

20140919_122936

This particular bus seemed to experience a similar failure to another bus I boarded before in that both green ticket reader units had locked up with an error code on their screens but the Opal card system was operational. This implies possibly a communication issue or firmware issue in the new driver’s console causing these problems. I saw an adult with a child, both with Opal cards inside clear plastic sleeves with no other cards inside. The adult tapped off with their card with success the first time. But when the child attempted to tap off, the reader issued a “Try again with only one card.” Luckily, the young child was attentive, and retried the operation without changing a thing, and it succeeded. Huh. It seems there might be gremlins in the system – say, maybe an update to the card balance was attempted with the card just a little too far from the field, and the card’s power brownout detection aborted the operation, but then the second time it was just close enough. Who knows.

I also came across a different bus with one of the four Opal readers out of action. This one had blue-screened, as part of its initialization, and had the text “Starting Apps …” in the bottom left corner.

Other Thoughts

I was at Chester Hill station admiring the OSRAM Substitube Basic LEDs when it hit me that I haven’t seen a single dead tube. I suppose either that’s great luck, or a sign of quality control.

I was doing some experiments in bright direct sunlight that was very uncomfortable. But it seems that my phone camera doesn’t mind too much light.

20140915_114211

This went on for a lot longer than I expected. I guess I did have some observations banked up after all …

About lui_gough

I’m a bit of a nut for electronics, computing, photography, radio, satellite and other technical hobbies. Click for more about me!

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3 Responses to Random Post: Another Sydney Trains Meltdown, TfNSW E-mail Blunder, iOS8, Opal, etc.

  1. Kevin Wong says:

    I can say that the continuous failure of our rail system demonstrate the lack of foresight of our rail planners and management. Considering incidents like these can almost be described as weekly occurrence I find surprising that no procedural backup planning or quick measure has been implemented. The clear inflexibility of our rail network and the sensitivity to cough ups really brings to question also the potential hazard and risks of being a passenger.

  2. Pingback: Random: Opal Card Stories, Tips & Central Station Upgrades | Gough's Tech Zone

  3. Sunny Yan says:

    About bus 4878, it is actually a replacement for the original 4878, which was a CNG bus that blew up at Hillsdale (written off). As the original bus was out of production, the bus was replaced with a newer CB80 body with the same chassis as the original. I think this was the type of bus in production at the time for Forest Coachlines, hence the different fabric.

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