Adobe’s Flash, the web browser plug-in that powered so very many crappy games, confusing interfaces, and animated icons of the early web like Homestar Runner is now finally gone, after a long, slow, protracted death. For most of us, this just means that some goofy webgame you searched for out of misplaced nostalgia will no longer run. For a select few in China, though, the death of Flash meant being late to work, because the city of Dalian in northern China was running their railroad system on it. Yes, a railroad, run on Flash, the same thing used to run “free online casinos” and knockoff Breakout games in mortgage re-fi ads.
I find this personally fascinating because I have a little experience with Flash and its programming language, ActionScript, from some past lives. My goofy hoax Kyrgyzstani dead-goat-polo arcade machine’s code was written in Flash/ActionScript, and I pissed away most of my money in the early 2000s trying to start a webcasting company that used a Flash-based player. So, I know it can actually be made to do all kinds of interesting things.
Hell, YouTube used to run on Flash until 2015. It wasn’t all stupid little web games but, that said, I can’t for the life of me fathom why anyone would want to run a freaking railroad network on it, with physical, multi-ton moving railcars full of human beings on it.
So, when Adobe finally killed Flash-based content from running, this Tuesday Dalian’s railroad network found itself ground to a halt for 20 hours.
The railroad’s technicians did get everything back up and running, but the way they did this is fascinating, too. They didn’t switch the rail management system to some other, more modern codebase or software installation; instead, they installed a pirated version of Flash that was still operational. The knockoff version seems to be known as “Ghost Version.”
This, along with installing an older version of the Flash player to work with the knockoff Flash server setup, “solved” the problem, and the railroad was back up and running.
This is all fascinating to me. It’s not like Flash’s demise was sudden; it’s been known since 2017 that it was going away, and this railroad somehow managed to ignore that until they had absolutely no choice, and everything stopped.
And, while it’s tempting to mock their not-really-a-solution solution, the truth is the system is running again! So, I guess that’s a victory?
Plus, the control room of that railway might just be the last place on Earth you can enjoy Strongbad’s Emails in the medium they were originally intended, not debased by some filthy .swf emulator.