Magic and the art of business travel

I do not believe in magic. I contend that everything has a rational explanation and, if science has not yet explained something, it will only be a matter of time. I am surprised by my realization that my view is not as universal as I thought. There are actually many people who do believe in magic. I am not taking a side-swipe at religious beliefs. I am thinking about the casual way that many people use technology, with little or no idea how it works …

I am an engineer at heart and I want to know how everything works. I do not need to know every last detail – the basic principles are enough. I do not want to be able to build a TV from scratch, but knowing how these wonderful, full-color, moving images make it to my living room is important to me. The same mindset goes for my phone, my camera, computers, nuclear weapons … I am always rather amazed by intelligent, usually curious, people, can get by without this knowledge. Technology, if you do not understand the basis on which it works, is indistinguishable from magic. [It was the wonderful Arthur C Clarke who said “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” He and I have often seen eye to eye.]

A bigger surprise to me is when I find myself using something and realize that I have no idea how some functionality is implemented. I had an interesting example in the last few days …

I was traveling to a conference in Stockholm, Sweden. This obviously involved some flying. For reasons beyond my understanding, a direct flight is very expensive, but a longer, indirect route is much more reasonable – like half the price. My route was BHX->MUC, MUC->ARN. If you have a basic understanding of the geography of Northern Europe, you will immediately realize that this is a roundabout way to get there, but, as I said, it was substantially cheaper than something more sensible.


I have recently taken to using electronic boarding passes. I get an email from the airline when I check in and follow a link. The result is that my boarding passes get loaded into the Passbook app on my iPhone. The correct boarding pass pops up when it is needed. I am not sure whether this is triggered by the time or my location [already my knowledge of this technology is shaky], but it just seems to work. Until now, I figured that electronic boarding passes were just a neat way to keep track of documentation – no scraps of paper to lose or mislay in my baggage. OK, I can lose my phone, but I do tend to pay attention to its whereabouts. I had not realized that this app had some hidden magic

My first flight went well, arriving in Munich in good time. The next thing, that I needed to do, was to locate the gate for my second flight. Normally, I just look for a display screen, but, as I got off the plane, I observed that it was shown on my boarding pass. As I walked towards the G gates – quite some distance, as the German airport authorities like to keep passengers as fit as possible – I felt a buzz from my phone. I took it out to see that it was a notification from the Passbook of a gate change and my boarding pass had been updated.

As I walked briskly to my updated destination, I realized that I had no idea how this information had reached me. Clearly the downloaded boarding pass contains some kind of live link back to Lufthansa’s IT systems. I really do not know how this is achieved – it looks like magic.

The rest of my day was rather less magical. We boarded the plane and were ready to go, but were informed that there was a technical problem, that needed to be addressed. In due course, it was concluded that the plane was broken. No magic here – I know how planes work and I am mostly surprised that they do not fail more often. Lufthansa did what they are required to do and found us another airplane – eventually.

We arrived in Stockholm just under 4 hours late. This meant that I did not get to my hotel until 10 minutes before they stopped serving food. If the flight had been just a few minutes later, I would have missed my dinner, but the €400 compensation that the airline would have been required to pay me might have made me feel better. But they avoided the payout by a small margin. Was there more magic at work here?

Want to stay up to date on news from Siemens Digital Industries Software? Click here to choose content that's right for you

Leave a Reply

This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at