Fashion show at Flagstaff station

In my years of commuting through Flagstaff station I’ve seen many things – some normal like massive Myki queues, other annoying like the recent plague of chuggers, and finally some odd ones like this performance piece on the concourse. However this 1985 event takes the cake – a full on fashion show.

Fashion show held at Flagstaff station, May 1985

“Modelling at a railway station at the Figgins Diorama opening parade” / Photo by Rennie Ellis via the State Library of Victoria.

Fast forward to today and instead of fashionistas nibblings on wine and cheese, we have a detention cell for criminals.

Little used staircase linking the main southern concourse and the upper level walkway to the Flagstaff Gardens exit

A footnote

Figgins Diorama was an upmarket Melbourne department store, located in the former Mayfair Theatre at 167-173 Collins Street. Opened in May 1985, it only operated for 19 months before entering administration in December 1986, closing down soon after.

East West Link and spam blogs

A few weeks ago in my Twitter feed I found somebody taking the piss of an news article, which described the proposed East West Link freeway as “replenish seductiveness”.

East West Link will "replenish seductiveness"

Even the most simple minded freeway advocate would never write something so nonsensical, so I dug deeper into the linked article:

East West link: Coalition will replenish seductiveness from $1bn in early funding
May 27, 2014

The Abbott executive has signalled it’s going to get improved any passion warranted on a $1bn early cost it is creation to a Victorian govt for a 2d theatre of a East West couple project.

Labor lifted questions about a choice to offer a $1bn by regulating 30 June, as officials certified a Victorian executive used to be though to yield Infrastructure Australia with a full trade box and work used to be not as a outcome of start solely late 2015.

The East West couple is an 18km highway endeavour in Melbourne joining a eastern limited-access highway to a Western Ring highway.

The sovereign Coalition betrothed progressing than a choosing to make a grant $1.5bn to theatre one, however Tony Abbott introduced final month a sovereign supervision would flow an additional $1.5bn into theatre two.

No help there – the content is just as meaningless as the headline!

However on further investigation of the website that posted the article, I found an answer in the “For sale” listing by the previous owner:

Automated news website listed for sale on Flippa

Turns out the website isn’t a “real” news source – it is just a giant spam factory that takes real news articles from elsewhere, runs every second word through a thesaurus to make the content look unique, and then crams the page full of advertisements to make money from anyone who stumbles upon the website via Google.

That led me into the spammer filled side of the internet, where I found dozens of advertisements touting similar websites as the road to riches.

Get your own automated news website

Some being more audacious with their spiel than others:

You Can Turn $19 Into Thousands with Your Own Automated News Websites Like Google or Yahoo News

Looking for a website that has good earning potential and can operate on it’s own because it’s 100% automated? Well, a News website like Google News, The Drudge Report or Bing News is what you need. These websites receive lots of traffic and earnings because they have news and content from all over the internet. You can literally go to one place and find everything you need.

DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH MONEY SUCCESSFUL NEWS WEBSITES ARE MAKING THESE DAYS?

YOU CAN TURN $19 INTO HUNDREDS OR EVEN THOUSANDS!

The news is updated all the time and you can have a website with a broad range of category news topics or a specific niche. Once the traffic starts coming to these types of websites, you are going to be amazed how fast it grows.

Unfortunately for anyone out there thinking you can make money by filling the internet with automatically generated news articles, the engineers at Google are a few steps ahead of you – they’ve updated Google Search to prevent such crap from ranking high in search engine results.

As for me, my route to riches is based on the Underpants Gnome business plan:

  1. Spend ages writing about stuff
  2. ?
  3. Profit

Wikipedia and railfan rumours

There is an old railway saying that goes “If you haven’t heard a rumour by lunchtime, then start a new one”. This leads to all kinds of harebrained discussion threads wherever railfans congregate, as well as Wikipedia articles such as this snippet I found the other day:

Tottenham Yard

Tottenham Yard was opened in the western suburb of Tottenham from the 1920s as part of a project to improve freight movement in Victoria. The majority of freight traffic in the state was from the north or western areas, and was being remarshalled into trains at Melbourne Yard. This caused inefficiencies with the large number of trains needing to enter the Melbourne city, so the yard was opened for the marshalling of trains before they were sent to Melbourne Yard.

Laid with broad gauge trackage, Tottenham is a gravitational yard with a slight slope from the Sunshine end towards the city. The yard consists of four groups of sidings: arrival roads, two groups of classification roads, and departure tracks. Heavy usage of the yard ended with the gauge conversion of the main line to Adelaide in 1995, and with the decline of broad gauge traffic in general, large areas of the yard are now used for wagon storage. Tottenham station is located to the south of the yard.

The part conversion of Tottenham Yard to standard gauge is expected to commence next year which will allow larger Standard Gauge freight trains to terminate at Tottenham with trip working from the yard to Melbourne and return.

What caught my eye was the “expected to commence next year” line in the final paragraph, which lacked any mention of the date when the statement was originally written. So when was this “partial conversion to standard gauge” supposed to have started?

Thankfully Wikipedia makes available the full edit history of each and every article available, which makes tracking down the source of the statement just a few clicks away – 19 July 2011!

Wikipedia edit history

Three years on, and nothing has happened on the partial conversion of Tottenham Yard to standard gauge front – yet another railfan rumour that came to nothing!

XR552 and one half of the Kensington grain at Tottenham Yard, ready to meet up with the other half ex-Kensington

Newspapers using the “wrong” train photos

If you are interested in trains like I am, then you probably spend a lot of time online discussing the latest rail related news stories with fellow railfans. Over the years I have discovered an extremely common thread of discussion – the “wrong photo” complaint.

Victoria Police media release involving the Craigieburn line, featuring an XTrapolis train

If the initial poster isn’t the one who complains, it won’t be long until somebody else does.

The Age article on the Upfield line, featuring an XTrapolis train

So why does the news media make these supposed “mistakes”, and why are railfans guaranteed to complain about it?

On the news media

In the “good old days” of dead tree newspapers, the images that sat beside each article were just as important as the words, as former Age photographer Chris Beck wrote nostalgically:

When I started as a photographer at The Sunday Age in 1989, the picture editor impressed the importance of the images on me. Stories were discussed in tandem with pictures. Weeks later I photographed a coroner for the features section, and the picture took up half the page. The editors believed that it was the image that drew people to a story, and they wanted personality in the picture and a style that was coherent but surprising.

He also writes of the new reality, in a world where Fairfax Media have made 75% of their staff photographers redundant, and turned to far cheaper commercial photo agencies.

An agency will be sent a directive, probably an address and a name. The agency in turn will send a “faceless man” or woman to illustrate a story that has either already been written or yet to be composed. It’s economical.

The age of the camera phone has probably bluffed media management into believing that photojournalism is a luxury. Blurry amateur phone video and pictures of fights and fires on the news and internet are becoming more pervasive because they are immediate.

Photojournalists may be lamenting the replacement of their craft by outsiders, but in the case of most articles about public transport, newspapers don’t sent out photographers to capture a “relevant” photo from the Craigieburn line to go beside an article – instead they look at their existing stock photo collection.

Newspapers maintain their own collection of images previously taken by their staff photographers, and tag them with relevant keywords so they can be found again for use in future articles – or sell them to the public, like News Limited does with their Newsphotos website.

So in the case of the “wrong” photos found above, the newspaper photo editor just typed ‘Melbourne Metro train’ into their photo library, and chose a photo that fits the space available – nothing more, and nothing less.

On railfans

In case you didn’t know, Melbourne’s fleet of XTrapolis and Siemens trains are dedicated to specific railway lines for arcane historical reasons, which means that when a newspaper publishes a photo of said trains alongside an article for a “different” railway line, the complaints from railfans come in thick and fast.

When I pointed out the reality of newspaper editors and stock photos to them, some misunderstood the commercial reality of print media.

I thought it was meant to be up to someone who works for the newspaper to take the photo.

At least some railfans at least *consider* that normal people might not know as much about trains as they do.

The editor might not even know that not all trains run the same lines.

But others think newspaper staff have all day to sit around organising train photos, so they are correctly tagged for future retrieval.

They should have searched “Upfield line”

Yes, but it’s not just that. A more sensible photo would have been a pic of the track between Gowrie and Upfield, a more relevant photo.

In the end, the simplest way to get the point across was for me to replace the word “train” with plane (and assume they weren’t a planespotter as well as a railfan!)

If I asked anyone here to pick a photo to illustrate an article about a plane crash, there is a good chance they’d get the airline wrong! Or the type of aircraft, or the type of engine, or which variant of the livery it wears…

As for the reality of indexing photos for future retrieval, I currently have over 31,948 photos of Victorian trains online, sorted into topic-based albums and captioned with relevant information against them – a process that has taken years of effort, and occasionally I still have difficulty trying to find a relevant photo to illustrate my railway related blog posts.

What hope does a mere newspaper editor have to find the perfect photo?

And in the future

If the selection of stock photos against news articles isn’t already enough to get a bee in the bonnet of railfan, this algorithm that spots breaking news stories and illustrates them with pictures is sure to do so:

Last year, Thomas Steiner at Google Germany, in Hamburg, released just such an algorithm that can spot breaking news events as they happen. Today, he’s updated it with a picture-based interface that attempts to tell the stories behind the news events that the algorithm has spotted.

Vision impaired and the green button

A few months ago I first looked at the delayed rollout of LED next train displays around Melbourne railway stations, the uselessness of the green buttons that serve as their substitute around the rest of the network, and the difficulties it presents to the disabled.

Over at Southern Cross they have put a little more effort into their timetable information / emergency assistance intercom, with braille text being added alongside the normal instructions.

Timetable information / emergency assistance intercom on the suburban platforms

Unfortunately the usefulness of the braille translation is debatable, as a commenter on an earlier blog post of mine has pointed out:

If you can read braille and you look at the braille underneath the text on the emergency assistance panels on each platform at Southern Cross you’ll find that the braille reads *exactly* the same as the text i.e. “Press the *green* button for timetable information, press the *red* button for emergency assistance” which is of course *really* useful if you’re blind, one suggests that Left and Right would have been better choices…

Here is a closer look for those playing at home.

'Press green button' spelt out both in normal writing and in Braille

With “Press green button” translating to the following in braille:

Press green button

Yes – the sign may meet the Disability Discrimination Act requirements, but the usefulness of it is debatable.

Further reading