Lessons learned

There is a saying: “Nobody makes the same mistake twice. The second time is a choice.” I am not so sure. There are times when I have the “Groundhog Day” feeling when I realize that I have made a mistake that has an air of familiarity about it. I do my best to learn from other people’s errors, but sometimes I have to forge my own way …

I the modern world, life’s experiences are generally a composite of a number of experiences, requiring a bunch of decisions, every one of which is a potential error. I suspect that getting every one right is the exception, not the rule. Just lately, I seem to be particularly adept at making bad decisions.

The first example is very simple. I had a laptop that I wanted to sell. It was a nice machine and I expected to get a good price for it. Obviously I thought in terms of a well-known auction website. My wife buys and sells stuff – generally of lower value – all the time, with very little in the way of problems. It never seems that smooth to me. People are always telling me about the great price they got when selling some piece of junk or how they snagged a real bargain; I am always disappointed in both situations.

Selling the laptop should be easy: detail the spec., include a couple of pictures, set the starting price and we’re off. But then come the questions – some dumb and some reasonable. There are requests for more photos, which I think provide very little information, but I send them. There are silly offers, which I just counter-offer. Eventually the auction ends, the final price is OK, but the buyer is in Greece! I do not want to ship out of the UK, but go ahead and invoice the guy to include the shipping. He says he is happy, but he does not pay. Eventually, I give up and re-list. This time I am more careful about the shipping destination and spell it out. I make an error and the auction ends on Tuesday, not Sunday as I had intended [Sunday is apparently better]. All the same offers etc. and the auction finally completes and the price is just about OK. I ship and hope that this is the end of the story and, in 21 days, my money is released. I am not sure what lesson I learned. Maybe get my wife to do the selling for me. ?

Other times I can learn a lesson. I recently rented a car abroad, as I have many times before. A common “scam” by car rental companies is to sell you more insurance. They automatically provide the legal minimum, but you end up driving with a huge excess – if you have an accident, it is expensive. They will sell you more cover, but that is expensive, maybe well over $100 even for a short period. I long since got wise to this and took out an annual insurance, which costs about $40, and that covers me for up to 30 days of car rental in a whole year. An aspect of car rental that I had not appreciated is breakdown. The rental companies regard this as the same as an accident and charge accordingly! On my recent trip, my car did break down on the way to the airport to come home. They sent a recovery truck to take the car and a taxi to take us to the airport. They then charged a large sum to my credit card. I have submitted my claim to the insurance company and await a response.

What can I learn from this? It may be that the breakdown was my fault. It occurred shortly after I had topped up the car’s fuel – I needed to return it full. When I arrived at the service station, I was confused – there were about 5 pipes coming out of the pump! I am used to 2: one for petrol [gas], the other for diesel. Which one should I use? On the rental contract was this text:

I do not speak Portuguese [I know how to say “thank you”, “good day” and “beer” – what more do I need?], but this appears to say that I need petrol and maybe the color black is involved. Of the numerous fuel pipes at the pump, most were green, but one was black, so I used that. In the UK, green means petrol and black means diesel. Did I top up the car with diesel by mistake?

I guess the lesson to learn is to check and double check such details. Although I accept my own stupidity, I am very slightly comforted by the recollection of a discussion at the adjacent pump, where some fellow Brits also concluded that a black pipe was a good idea. I will never know what became of them …

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at https://blogs.sw.siemens.com/embedded-software/2018/09/27/lessons-learned/