Re: What's the most technical task you ever did as part of your job?

Subject: Re: What's the most technical task you ever did as part of your job?
From: Nick Murray <flutable -at- hotmail -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Sat, 26 Jan 2013 14:02:35 +1100

Great question!

In 2001 I was working in a team in Denmark doing systems testing and documentation for a public transport ticketing company (Australian company, Danish customer). The ticket machines used smart cards, and the system was touch on/touch off, so the computer could both calculate the correct fare, and track where customers travelled (for route planning purposes).

One of the ticket machines seemed to have a faulty backup battery, which meant that when the driver turned off the ignition key, the data in the ticket machine's RAM vanished. Since the machines also had GPS capability, we were able to identify which bus contained the ticket machine by analysing patterns in data returned by correctly-working machines. Once we identified the machine, we identified the bus, looked up its timetable and routes, and then I jumped into the car and drove like a bat out of hell up the M45 motorway with the intention of downloading the ticketing data before the driver ended his shift (for some reason we weren't able to contact the driver directly). As with most motorways, there were several overpasses with no on- or off-ramps, so I ended up chasing the bus all around southern Denmark.

I finally caught it right at the end of the shift. With gravel spraying everywhere I slid the car half-sideways into the depot, leapt out and sprinted towards the bus. My Danish wasn't that great, but with a bit of arm waving and yelling I managed to get the driver's attention just before he turned the key. Plugged in the download unit, sucked out all the data, and job done.

Another fun part of this job was trying to find out why certain ticket machines printed ticket receipts every time the driver used the brakes, or turned left. After not using any of my electronic engineering degree for years, it was good to revise a bit of it and ultimately point out a bus power supply that was not up to spec: the current draw of the ticket printer, and of the turn indicators was just enough to cause a voltage drop, which we were able to reproduce on a test bench. Lo and behold, dropping the voltage just slightly caused tickets to print.

But why it was only LEFT turns and not right turns that caused the voltage drop...that will forever remain a mystery to me!
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