The Mouse Pointer

A few days ago, I snapped this picture of a road sign, which contains three live-updating displays that tell you how many minutes it takes to go to the places indicated on the sign. The thing is, if you look carefully, there is an unwelcome guest in the sign.

The gantry sign in question. Read below for a description.

The gantry sign in question. Read below for a description.

If you can't see it, then the figure here shows a gantry sign with several destinations. The live-updating displays are the coloured digits there, and they tell you how many minutes it takes to go to Kowloon via the three tunnels on top of them – through the west, through the east and straight up the tunnel in the middle. Only, the one on the right (going through the tunnel marked C) has a mouse pointer in the middle! The pointer actually managed to stay for a week or so after I took this picture, and has been there for four days when this picture was taken.

Let's quickly go through what happened here:

The ETA panels are actually streamed from a computer monitor somewhere remotely located. This is just your run-of-the-mill Windows installation, and there is a program that simply displays the ETA in a window. There is then a remote desktop package that streams that little bit of the monitor into the low-resolution display on the sign. And then maybe a reboot happened or something and the mouse pointer showed up and no one noticed because no one is actually monitoring the computer.

But this is not why I wrote this thing.

The reason why I wrote this thing is that I was genuinely surprised that the display can do a whole lot more than just a number with a colour on it. It's in fact an entire computer behind the display, just to display a number.

Which seems to me like a massive over-powered action. It feels a bit wasteful somehow, like using a sledgehammer to hit a fly, so the saying goes. Clearly, some decision was made that using the same solution for everything than to make the smallest solution for the job. As someone I showed this picture to commented, "software has taken over the world"

That seems like some kind of strange misstep, but I'm not really sure if it's really worth complaining much about. So here we go.

🗼 gemini://