Virtual Transport System

Note to readers: I spent time today going through some old folders saved on a usb stick,  and stumbled across this piece I wrote 10 years ago,  for a writing course I did back in 2005.  As not too much has changed I thought it was worth publishing for a laugh! 


Virtual Transport?

Apparently I’m not the only one who loves op shopping. I was surprised to read in The Age last week that State government employees are doing the rounds of the second hand shops too – to source parts for the antiquated  computer system running Melbourne’s metropolitan trains!

According to the article, the computer network currently in use was installed in 1981 when the City Loop was opened! Back in 1981, when I had just started Year 7,  computers were still a fairly new phenomenon. I got right through school and only used computers for one semester, in a subject called, aptly, “Computers”, where I learned how to start one up in DOS, by typing “run” at the white cursor that flashed on and off on a black screen.

Imagine any school or business still using the same computers now as they were using back then!  It is not surprising that the only way for the Metrol computer system to be maintained is with  “parts sourced from garage sales and op shops”. (The Age, 2/7/05)

I must look out for computer boffins from the Department of Transport sifting through the goodies at the Salvation Army. In fact – here’s an idea – perhaps I could keep an eye out for them, if they care to pass on a general description of what they are after! Surely it would only cost about 50 cents for a keyboard from 1981, so if it doesn’t work perfectly, it’s not a big loss for the government’s transport budget, is it? The Lilydale  train might get stuck at Ringwood station for a while when the Shift key jams, but currently it goes backwards whenever the Caps Lock is on, so anything is an improvement….

Do government employees sent to browse through op shops and garage sales enjoy it the way that seasoned op shoppers like myself do? Do they get a thrill out of finding a real bargain in vaguely working order – “Wow, a mouse from 1982, only 20 cents! The right click won’t work, but hey – that will only affect the Northern Suburbs lines at peak hour.” There is also the satisfaction of discovering a new use for an item that no-one else has thought of – “Oooh, look at this great Dot Matrix printer I picked up for a song, perfect for updating train schedules!”  I imagine the excitement of being given a budget – say of $5 – probably goes to their heads, they  get carried away, and come out with things that they – and even our dusty old computerised train network – don’t need. “Huh…I guess this old Beta video player is not really going to improve services on the Epping Line.”

er....."RUN"? Oh ok, I see, it's not on.

What do you mean the train hasn’t left the station yet?…Oh, I see, it’s not turned on.  Oops.

Eager employees may become addicted to the search, and become collectors of historical computer parts, attending garage sales and op shops in their own time for another fix. They may start gravitating eagerly towards the book section of the charity shops, where all sorts of treats would be in store for anyone needing technical computer book written in the 80’s.

Of course, for the private company now running our trains, that’s just another benefit of this thrifty approach to technology – purchasing the ‘how-to’ manuals is another whole area of budget savings. If you go to your local Op Shop on the right day, you could get a whole bag of technical manuals from 1981, enough for your entire metropolitan train system, for $2!

According to The Age, the government is finally looking to upgrade, and is calling for tenders to replace the system. I think I can help here. I have a ten year old computer, a spare monitor, a laptop bought second hand four years ago, on which the screen no longer works, an old walkman from the early nineties, a few old computer leads and a mouse. If  you plug them all into a power board, they could probably replace the entire computer system from 1981 currently running our trains.

Industry sources allegedly  told The Age that “a new system is a virtual certainty.” I hope the sources didn’t mean a virtual reality.


Pic of old computer: 

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  1. It’s actually a nice little article with a good balance of implied criticism mitigated by gentle humour. It ought to have found a place in one of your local newspapers. Who knows – you might have been invited to become a regular contributor and have embarked on a glittering career in journalism!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Silver Tiger! At the time I did send it off to one paper – we were encouraged to try and get work published – and they declined. I couldn’t think of anywhere else suitable for the piece so it remained unpublished!



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