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Train Trainings, or missing the train for fun and profit

Yes, please Sir, you may take your train in platform 1 or 2 to Amsterdam Central.
These were the words that gave me a breath of confidence inside the Amsterdam Airport train station. Amidst many signs in the undecipherable Dutch language (insert jokes about Hebrew letters here), numbers are easy and I know these from tender age. Off I go to platform 1 (where a computer screen did indeed say “Amsterdam Central” in large fonts) hopping in the first train that arrives.

After a couple stations in which the small computer screen in the wagon did not show anything resembling “Amsterdam Central”, I asked the young boy sharing the bench with me whether I’m on the right direction. Turns out I was not, ha! Had to have waited for a later train in that now far-away platform 1.
In the last moments before the train left with me for another city altogether (Utrecht), I got off the train and a station operator helped me to a platform that had a direct train to Maastricht (for EuroSTAR 2015!). And I felt back in control.

Ok, not a remarkable story. Why am I breaking a 4 years blog-hiatus with such inanities (other than to humour a good friend)?
It’s because I’ll try to tie it with testing and learning. Let’s try it together:

Meanwhile I texted my Wife, explained that I’d lost time by getting in the wrong train. “OTOH,” she asked, “if you got on an earlier train and then did an exchange, you may have saved time. Right?
And that’s the point: I don’t know.

I learned a few things about Netherlands trains during the 20 minutes this happened: that platforms are used for many different lines and directions, that even though the main sign for a platform points to one destination there are smaller trains that also stop there before the big ones, that even though we are told to change trains in a station we can exchange in others… but I still didn’t know whether what I did was a delay or a lucky win. Even though I am empirically experiencing the trains first hand, I’ll have to wait to meet a friend to show me the train rails and timetables before I can start to understand more of what had happened. Either that, or opening the info by myself to make sense of it, or alternatively spending a couple days doing the trajectory between the stations taking notes.

Sitting in the train right now, it felt similar to what we feel testing software. We act, the application reacts, we do one thing and the software replies with another. Sometimes we go in a wrong direction, take notes of the new learnings and then go back. And, after a while testing, a question pops: We’ve been learning all day long, now this peculiar behavior — is it a bug or not? Is it a problem or perhaps a lucky feature?
And often we don’t know. Only after we admit that our learning is not complete, we can look for a friend to help us with the answer, or identify the materials needed to fill the knowledge gap, or decide on the next empirical steps required to elucidate the question… or at least get closer to an answer or recommendation.

Software is tricky (it’s invisible, it’s intangible) and it is infinite. Learning software is infinite as well. If we fall in the trap of feeling in control, we’ll not notice when big questions are yet unanswered.

Well, I should post this online, before I miss my station.

2 Responses

  1. jlottosen says:

    I landed in Brussels (BRU), and had to take the train from there to Leuven, then to Liege, and then to Maastricht. I had a fine itineary, but in Leueven I was puzzled:

    Track 2 had to train for Liege-Guillemins 14:57. But track 3 opposite had a train to LEIK-GUIL. Departing at the same time…

    So I Wondered:
    – if it smells like a fish, swims like a fish it’s probably fishy
    – rather trust the territory, not the map
    and asked an Oracle Conductor. And it was my train. Liek and Liege is the same city, just spelled in two languages (same letter type and alphabeth though :).

    In Lieck/Liege I met Rickard Edgreen and had confimation of my futher travels… he also had a GPS signal.

    Good to see you again on the blog and for real.

  2. Anders says:

    By chance I stumbled upon your website, most of the content quite old, but certainly made me smile. The ‘geeky’ approach to life, making comments or calling to job ads just for personal humor, probably to great annoyance to those around you.

    My wife still get pissed each and every time she asks something like ‘What is this???”, pointing to some object in the living room. After carefully study and assessing the situation, I conclude pretty confident with “I am quite certain that it is a cup, made of some sort of clay, but the exact composition of the materials used are not known to me. By the looks of the inside and stains of coffee on the outside I would suspect it has quite recently been used by some individual to …” at witch point I am pretty sure she struggles real, real hard to remember what went trough her mind when she agreed to getting married.

    Anyway, what made me leave a point was the update on the Dutch railway issue. I have the exact same experience with some added content as my plane was delayed last week, and no departing trains to Maastricht that late (besides a ‘planned work’ train that I later found out involved several changes of trains and a couple of hours bus ride through the foggy farmlands of southern Holland). For added fun, try changing a pre-purchased train ticked trough their given telephone number.

    For a brief moment I started questioning myself if it was indeed my blog, written in some case of (for me) unknown state of sleep-walking.


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