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Sunday, August 26, 2012

Look both ways before crossing

Back in July, I wrote a post that tried to imagine what life would be like if the software industry built railroad maintenance trucks. I'd seen them in person once or twice but never paid much attention to it. Specifically, one of them rolled across Montague in Milpitas in the middle of rush hour. I was in no hurry, but people seemed angry to have to wait since the arms were down, and then it turned out to just be a dumb pickup truck.

Back in my earlier post, I made up a bunch of scenarios as a snarky and hopefully humorous way of talking about how we do things with software. The seemingly random attempts at fixing things which lead to even bigger problems are like something out of a bad TV show, but they happen every day all over the industry.

One of the things I made up was that the "version 3.1" truck was being used and it crashed into a semi truck because the crossing gate arms weren't down. I figured that would normally never happen with the real thing based on what I saw on Montague that day.

This morning, I saw a counterexample roll by right in front of me.

Caltrain maintenance truck

That's the very beginning of Castro in Mountain View. I saw this pickup truck on the rails heading in my general direction and managed to get my phone going in time to grab a brief video of it crossing. This is a frame grab from that video.

See the arms? They're up. They stayed up the whole time.

As for the two guys in the truck, they just rolled up very slowly, peered around, and then slowly crossed. The light on Castro at Central was red and there was a car just out of frame to the right, so the white SUV back there had to stop where it was anyway.

So there it is. Apparently you can drive one of those things right down the rails and not bring down the arms. Who knew?