Maratón Popular de Madrid (2000)

Hace 5 años escribí unas lineas describiendo mi experiencia cuando en el año 2000 corrí mi primera maratón, en Madrid, la Maratón Popular de Madrid (MAPOMA).

El 30 de abril de 2000, tras varias experiencias corriendo por las calles de Madrid: olor a réflex un domingo por la mañana frente a la fuente de Neptuno, empezar a correr sin saber hasta donde iba a llegar, escuchar Carros de Fuego sonando desde un balcón de la calle Fuencarral, cruzar bajo el arco hinchable de la Puerta del Sol, los primeros dolores musculares en la Ciudad Universitaria, el saltarse las lágrimas con las caceroladas de los vecinos en la calle de la ribera del Manzanares, la soledad del lateral de la M-30, respirar el aire del pulmón de Madrid, ver el Paseo de los Pontones como una pared vertical desde el Puente de San Isidro, el Paseo del Prado, los últimos metros empedrados… mi primera maratón, MAPOMA (1). De nuevo por tus calles, Madrid.

A aquella carrera me inscribí porque unas semanas había visto por televisión la maratón de Londres (11 de abril) y pensé que no podría perderme una experiencia similar. Aparte de las líneas que he copiado arriba, de aquella experiencia tengo muchos más recuerdos bien grabados: un corredor que, viendo mi cara de sufrimiento, me paró en torno al kilómetro 37 para darme un pequeño masaje en las piernas; los paracaidistas de la BRIPAC descendiendo en la Castellana antes del comienzo de la carrera…

Hoy, 15 años después, de nuevo participaré en dicha carrera. Esta será mi cuarta maratón en la ciudad. Y tras una parada de 2002 a 2010, sera la 14a vez que tome la salida en una maratón.

El recorrido es parecido, aunque a lo largo de los años ha cambiado un poco. La dureza será la misma. Por otro lado, yo llego ahora mucho más entrenado que entonces, cuando apenas si preparaba la carrera y basaba todo en la creencia de que siendo joven y deportista podría acabar la carrera. Y de hecho la acaba, pero con mucho más sufrimiento y tardando más de una hora más que hoy en día.

Esta vez de nuevo correré con mi hermano Jaime y mis amigos Jose y Juan. Esperemos que por la tarde solo tengamos motivos para celebrar.

(1) Maratón Popular de Madrid (MAPOMA), 30 abril 2000, 42.2km, tiempo oficial 5:00:36; tiempo neto 4:59:23. [6083/6552, 93%]

Leave a comment

Filed under Sports

Social Progress Index

A few days ago I read an op-ed at Project Syndicate by Harvard professor Michael E. Porter titled “Why Social Progress Matters“. In it he defends the case for seeking social progress not as opposed to economic progress but to complete it.

Where there is an imbalance between economic growth and social progress, political instability and unrest often arise, as in Russia and Egypt. Lagging social progress also holds back economic growth in these and other countries that fail to address human needs, build social capital, and create opportunity for their citizens. Countries must invest in social progress, not just economic institutions, to create the proper foundation for economic growth.

In order to measure social progress he introduces the Social Progress Index (SPI), created in collaboration with Scott Stern of MIT and the nonprofit Social Progress Imperative, which measures 133 different countries in up to 52 indicators from child mortality, to affordable housing, tolerance for homosexuals, freedom of speech, greenhouse gas emissions… see them below:

Social Progress Index indicators.

Social Progress Index indicators.

I invite you to play with the tool available at Social Progress Imperative website. You can see what place your country of origin or residence ranks in each of the indicators, the consolidated indicators or the more global SPI (DEN #8, NL #9, GER #14, ESP #20, FRA #21).

Coming back to Porter’s article, it is important to note:

Focusing on social progress in this way leads to better development strategies, and builds political support for the controversial steps sometimes needed to increase prosperity. Rigorous measurement of social performance, alongside traditional economic indicators, is crucial to starting the virtuous circle by which GDP growth improves social and environmental performance in ways that drive even greater economic success. […]

[…] Paraguay, for example, has adopted the SPI to guide an inclusive national development plan for 2030. And the SPI is being used not just at the national level, but by regional and municipal authorities as well. States such as Para in Brazil, along with cities like Bogota and Rio de Janeiro in Latin America and Somerville in the US state of Massachusetts, are starting to use the SPI as a measure of development success.

This year, the European Commission will roll out regional SPIs across Europe. […]

[…] Measuring social progress offers citizens and leaders a more complete picture of how their country is developing. And that will help societies make better choices, create stronger communities, and enable people to lead more fulfilling lives.

I see that the debate on inequality is picking up, the concern for climate change is widespread, interest in sustainable development goals is rising… hopefully all these converge into increasing social progress and the dividends of the technological advances can be enjoyed by more. I see this SPI can indeed be an interesting and useful tool.

Leave a comment

Filed under Economy

Ailes Anciennes Toulouse, Visites Cockpit (April 2015)

Ailes Anciennes Toulouse is an association that preserves and restores old airplanes and helicopters. It is located in Blagnac, close to the museum Aeroscopia. In its collection has over 50 aircraft, some of which are being worked on, some are displayed in their field and others are ceded to Aeroscopia (e.g. the Super Guppy being one of them).

PosterVisiteCockpitApril11About three or four times a year, Ailes Anciennes organizes what they call Visites Cockpit events. In those days, most of the aircraft on display are opened for visitors to enter in them, sit in their cockpits, experience them, get explanations from enthusiast volunteers of the association, walk through their cabins and cargo hold compartments. Last April 11th was one of those days and we took the opportunity to visit it.

If last year we got the chance to see the only airworthy Noratlas flying in Francazal, this time we got to enter in one:

Loading plan of a Nord 2501 Noratlas.

Loading plan of a Nord 2501 Noratlas.

Side view of a Nord 2501 Noratlas.

Side view of a Nord 2501 Noratlas.

View of a Nord 2501 Noratlas

View of a Nord 2501 Noratlas

Cockpit of a Nord 2501 Noratlas.

Cockpit of a Nord 2501 Noratlas.

View of an Airbus A350 from the cargo hold of a Nord 2501 Noratlas.

View of an Airbus A350 from the cargo hold of a Nord 2501 Noratlas.

There were some aircraft which I believe I had never seen live before, such as:

Breguet 765 "Sahara".

Breguet 765 “Sahara”.

Andrea inside the trainer Fouga Magister.

Andrea inside the trainer Fouga Magister.

Max Holste MH 1521 "Broussard".

Max Holste MH 1521 “Broussard”.

Panel with limit velocities of a Breguet 941S.

Panel with limit velocities of a Breguet 941S.

Some of the other aircraft we enjoyed include the Sud Aviation Caravelle, the Douglas DC-3 (3), the North American T-6 Texan, the Mikoyan-Gourevitch MiG-21

Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21.

Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21.

Main dashboard of a MG-21.

Main dashboard of a MG-21.

Side panel of a MG-21.

Side panel of a MG-21.

Luca and Andrea inside a Cessna 310.

Luca and Andrea inside a Cessna 310.

Douglas DC-3.

Douglas DC-3.

Circuit breakers panel of a Sud Aviation Caravelle.

Circuit breakers panel of a Sud Aviation Caravelle.

Posing from the cockpit of a North American T-6G Texan.

Posing from the cockpit of a North American T-6G Texan.

Douglas DC-3 as seen from a North American T-6G Texan.

Douglas DC-3 as seen from a North American T-6G Texan.

Dashboard of a North American T-6G Texan.

Dashboard of a North American T-6G Texan.

Andrea playing around.

Andrea playing around.

I recommend the visit to Ailes Anciennes in its Cockpit days (10€ for adults). Take a look at their website to see when the next one is scheduled (normally in spring).

(1) See here a video of the Patrouille de France air show in Francazal 2014.

(2) See here a video of a Pratt & Whitney R-985 Wasp Junior radial engine in operation at the National Air & Space Museum of the Smithsonian institution in Washington DC, at Dulles.

(3) Read more about the origins of the Douglas DC-3 here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Aerospace & Defence

30 years of AEGEE

AEGEE stands for Association des États Généraux des Étudiants de l’Europe and it is the largest trans-national, interdisciplinary student organisation in Europe. You can find here the Wikipedia article about it and here the organisation’s website.

I was a member of the association from 2000 to 2005, while I was studying at the university. So were my brother and sister, and many friends. A couple of days ago, on the occasion of the 30th anniversary since the creation of the organisation, one of these friends, Juan, shared a reflection along the lines: of the many things that I have stumbled upon in my life, the one which changed it the most was AEGEE. He talked about learning, volunteering in associations, taking part in youth councils, meeting friends, organizing events, learning or practising languages, and experiencing what Europe is, beyond stereotypes. I subscribe his reflection word by word.

I have written over 500 posts in this blog and I now realize that I hadn’t yet dedicated a single one just to AEGEE. This is it.

I joined AEGEE in the spring of 2000, after having read an article in a university newspaper talking about the Summer Universities. I applied for one of those summer events in Istanbul. There I spent 2 weeks with about 30 other students from Slovenia, Croatia, Yugoslavia, Poland, The Netherlands, Austria, Macedonia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Spain… that experience was life changing, as you read it.

In the following 5 years I took part in another couple of such summer universities in Croatia and Macedonia. I helped to organize several others in Madrid and The Netherlands (and I casually visited some more). I took part and organized several student’s exchanges under the European Commission’s Youth Programme. I took part in the large event Youth 2002 in Denmark. I travelled Europe from one corner to another. I met friends from the several countries with which today, 10 to 15 years later I am still in contact with, many of which I have visited along these years. I made a couple of round-Europe inter-rail trips. I crossed borders on foot, car, bus, train, boat and planes (we even unknowingly crossed some former minefield in the border Macedonia-Kosovo). I learned that not all countries have as dialling out code the 00. I slept in trains, hunter’s cottages, train stations, airport toilets, planes, buses, gyms, students’ dorms, boats, friends’ homes, and even some youth hostels and hotels (and, of course, the house of AEGEE’s Comité Directeur in Brussels). I met Luca in late 2002, who I married in 2013. Surely, I got my parents’ suspicious of the association and they seeing it as a source of distraction from university studies (it was). But as my friend Juan mentioned: it’s not much of an exaggeration if we say AEGEE might be the thing that has changed my life the most.

If you have been raised far from Europe, it may have had no impact on you. If you studied in Europe, the chances are that it had, even if you had not yet realised about it. Take the Erasmus programme just as an example, from its Wikipedia site:

By the time the Erasmus Programme was adopted in June 1987, the European Commission had been supporting pilot student exchanges for 6 years. It proposed the original Erasmus Programme in early 1986, but reaction from the then Member States varied: those with substantial exchange programmes of their own (essentially France, Germany and the United Kingdom) were broadly hostile; the remaining countries were broadly in favour. Exchanges between the Member States and the European Commission deteriorated, and the latter withdrew the proposal in early 1987 to protest against the inadequacy of the triennial budget proposed by some Member States. However, AEGEE, the Association des États Généraux des Étudiants de l’Europe, persuaded French President François Mitterrand to support funding for the Erasmus programme. In the next few months a compromise was worked out with a majority of Member States, and the Programme was adopted by simple majority in June 1987.

In 2005 I also took an Erasmus grant to complete my final career project at the Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule Aachen (RWTH Aachen).

AEGEE was born in 1985 out of the EGEE 1 conference (États Généraux des Étudiants de l’Europe) held in Paris in April 1985.

In 2003 while travelling to The Netherlands with a Youth programme students’ exchange, my brother, some friends and I made a stop in Brussels. My friend and then AEGEE-Madrid president, Javier, and I wandered through the files of AEGEE-Europe office and made some copies of old press’ articles. Among them the one you can see below of that EGEE 1 conference in which the problem of students’ exchanges was discussed.

EGEE 1

Coverage of EGEE 1 conference by Le Monde (April 17, 1985).

May this post serve as a first homage to AEGEE and to all the members who sustained it through these first 30 years. And if you are a university student, the chances are that in your town there is an AEGEE antenna; check it out and join it, you won’t regret it!

Leave a comment

Filed under Education, Personal development & HR

Thomas Piketty, Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman debate on inequality

92nd Street Y (92Y) is a multifaceted cultural institution and community center located on the Upper East Side of Manhattan in New York.

A few days ago I stumbled upon a video related to an event they organized about a month ago: “7 days of genius“. The video in particular had economists Thomas Piketty, Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman debate mainly about inequality, with Alex Wagner from MSNBC as moderator. The video lasts 1h15′. If you happen to follow any of these economists (1) you will more than enjoy the time, as it is not only very informative but at points quite humorous too.

Apart from sharing the video, in this post I just wanted to highlight some passages of which I include excerpts transcribed by myself and some mental notes I made from the debate:

Krugman: “What’s not much known is that since those crisis days a lot of basic economics has worked remarkably well […] ” I’ve spent my life not entirely sure o whether I was a fraud or not […] it’s only been on the past 6 or so years that I’ve said “ok, you know, the staff works”,  the sad thing is that half of the economics profession has thrown away things that we know work […] the real sin is not failing to predict the crisis it is clinging to doctrines that are obviously clear are not working

Stiglitz: “all those fears that printing money would be inflationary was absurd” […] “economist who thought that putting the banks in the hospital for a year and a half, giving them not a blood transfusion, but a couple of trillion dollars of money would make them feel happier and that would get the economy working again. It’s clear that was wrong. That you need a clear fiscal policy, you need a real stimulus, and in a fundamental sense the economy was broken before the crisis and was using a bubble to keep that going, and that’s what we should have recognized.”

Krugman: “it’s been a race between us (USA) and Europe to see who can screw up worse, at the moment Europe is winning..”.

The three of them coincided in criticizing the (Euro zone) single currency with several fiscal policies, different interest rates on public debt, several governments… and even with that structural problem: “the situation is exacerbated by bad economic doctrines […] fiscal hypochondria” (Krugman)

Stiglitz: “we are focusing on too much debt… the real problem is that the fruits of our growth have not been widely shared”.

Stiglitz: “one of the things that Walmart raising their wages illustrates the fact that it’s not just market forces that are determining wages, that they had the power, the choice to raise their wages. […] take CEO pay, which has gone from 30x to over 300x the pay of the average worker without any justification, their productivity haven’t growth 10 times that of society”

Stiglitz: “when you have high level of youth unemployment, particularly men, when they can’t use their energy productively they tend to use them unproductively.”

Piketty: “I’m not particularly pessimistic, I see lots of good new, if you take a long perspective […] Europe is a much more prosperous and equal place today than what it was a century ago, when it was extremely unequal and more unequal than the US and today the US is more unequal than Europe, things change and different choices of policies and institutions can make things change. And also in the emerging world, there are lots of positive evolutions going on. I believe that globalization can help to reduce poverty in the world, assuming that we don’t expect that everything from the markets and we adopt the policies that can make globalization benefit broader groups of population, and sometimes governments do it. Take the example of Brazil”

I also enjoyed the criticism from Piketty to Jean Claude Juncker (current president of the European Union Commission and former Luxembourg prime minister) and its weak defense of his responsibilities in the making of Luxemburg a tax haven.

Finally, from the perspective of being Spanish, I found it interesting the following comment from Stiglitz:

“Let me call back to the question of the role of society. I was very pessimistic about Europe, but one hopeful sign of Europe is the growth of new groups like Podemos in Spain which are saying the old parties are note addressing the problems of raising unemployment and inequality. And now it’s a leading party with 27%. In the end is going to have to be political action that is going to address these issues. Civil society can bring the issue to the floor, but the real challenge is going to be to try to get those ideas into the political process […] in Europe it’s partly because it really collapsed, the real failure of old parties”

(1) I happen to like the three economists, both because of what I have read from them and the policies they advocate. As Luca warned me: the watching of the video made me fall in confirmation bias.

Leave a comment

Filed under Economy

Earned Value Management and cash preservation

A few weeks ago I attended a 2-day training course titled “Finance for non financiers”. I found it too basic. However, I wanted to comment on one exercise we were proposed almost at the end of the course.

We had just reviewed some notions of Earned Value Management with its main concepts: Planned Value (or Budgeted Cost of Work Scheduled (BCWS)), Actual Cost (or Actual Cost of Work Performed (ACWP)), Earned Value (or Budgeted Cost of Work Performed (BCWP)), Schedule Performance Index (SPI=Earned Value / Planned Value), Cost Performance Index (CPI=Earned Value / Actual Cost), etc., when the teacher posed the following question:

From a cash management (preservation) point of view rate the following sets of EVM indicators from best to worst:

1) SPI=1.2, CPI=1.2,

2) SPI=1.2, CPI=0.8,

3) SPI=0.8, CPI=1.2,

4) SPI=0.8, CPI=0.8.

Any EVM practitioner or person with some notions of EVM will know that in EVM SPI and CPI above 1 means good, and below 1 means bad. Therefore, from the previous exercise we would be able to immediately say that the best case is 1) (both indicators above 1) and the worst case is 4) (both indicators below one). The tricky situation would be how to value cases 2) and 3) where one of the indices is positive and the other negative.

I remember that in the class I quickly thought “if we want to preserve cash, a positive SPI means we advance faster and if it is coupled with a negative CPI that means we are burning cash at a higher than planned rate, therefore it is better the case 3) where we advance at a slower rate but always below planned budget”.

I was surpised when other colleagues started diverting with thoughts like “if you take the case 3) and are behind schedule you would not receive cash inflows so it would be worse” (?). However, the question from the exercise did not give any hint of whether cash inflows are linked to planned value, earned value or you just start with a pile of cash to be used. It just asked about cash preservation.

In my first year of university studies in aerospace engineering I very well learnt the lesson of not guiding oneself responses by the first intuition that you may have but to apply the knowledge acquired to the question at hand. In relation to this case, it would be as easy as to depict the typical EVM curves for the 4 cases and see which one is burning cash at a higher rate.

In each of the 4 graphics below you will see a black curve which represents the Planned Value, a green curve which represents the Earned Value and a red curve which represents the Actual Cost. In absence of information of whether the cost in the exercise is equal to cash outflows, we can assume that it is. Therefore, the best case for preserving cash (other things being equal) would be that with the lower Actual Cost curve (red curve). See the different curves below:

EVM case 1: SPI=1.2, CPI=1.2

EVM case 1: SPI=1.2, CPI=1.2

EVM case 2: SPI=1.2, CPI=0.8

EVM case 2: SPI=1.2, CPI=0.8

EVM case 3: SPI=0.8, CPI=1.2

EVM case 3: SPI=0.8, CPI=1.2

EVM case 4: SPI=0.8, CPI=0.8

EVM case 4: SPI=0.8, CPI=0.8

The first interesting point is that both cases 1 and 4 are burning cash at the same rate, however case 1 is ahead of schedule and case 4 is behind schedule. Therefore, case 1 is preferable, because in the end with case 4 we would arrive at the 12th month having consumed all the planned resources but not having completed the project.

Between the tricky cases, 2 and 3, we can immediately see that case 2 has burned more than twice the cash than case 3 at any given point! We can therefore infer that case 2 is indeed the worst case among the two.

Even if you think along the lines of some of my colleagues, i.e. assuming that cash inflows are linked to earned value (1), you will see that in case 2 the actual costs are always above earned value, whereas in case 3 the actual costs are below! So even following their way of thinking, had they done the math, they would have arrived to the same conclusion!

See in the graphic below how the case 2 burns much more cash than the case 3.

However, if the question had asked about what case is preferred from a schedule point of view the answer would have been different: as in the case 2 the project would have been completed by the 9th month (no matter the cost), whereas in the case 3 by the end of the year only a 80% of the project would have been completed (despite of the savings).

EVM cases 2 and 3.

EVM cases 2 and 3.

Finally, see below a table the detailed calculations for all 4 examples through the 8th month.

EVM calculations for the 4 cases.

EVM calculations for the 4 cases.

(1) Even in the absence of such information.

Leave a comment

Filed under Education

Goals Gone Wild

In these first months of the year many teams in many firms have gone or are going through annual interviews and goals setting for the year 2015.

Last week I read an interesting Schumpeter column in The Economist, “The quantified serf: Management by goal-setting is making a comeback, its flaws supposedly fixed”.

The article mainly covered two issues: one was the newest trend in goal-setting, “quantified work”, as promoted by BetterWorks, whereby employees collaborate in setting objectives for peers. This apparently improves performance and transparency. The article cautions, however, that rewards should not be linked to these goals and that an attainment of 60-70% of goals set in this way should be viewed as normal rather than failure.

The second issue covered by the article was side-effects of goal-setting. The article introduced the paper “Goals Gone Wild: The Systematic Side Effects of Over-Prescribing Goal Setting” [PDF, 500KB] by Lisa D. Ordóñez, Maurice E. Schweitzer, Adam D. Galinsky and Max H. Bazerman. In this post I wanted to comment on this paper.

Published in 2009, the paper makes a review of literature on goal-setting and even if admitting that studies have demonstrated specific and challenging goals can improve performance, it concludes that:

“For decades, scholars have prescribed goal setting as an all-purpose remedy for employee motivation. Rather than dispensing goal setting as a benign, over-the-counter treatment for students of management, experts need to conceptualize goal setting as a prescription strength medication that requires careful dosing, consideration of harmful side effects, and close supervision. […]”

Before reaching to that conclusion the paper examines several aspects of goals and why they may produce harmful side effects; to name a few:

  • When goals are too specific… people overlook other important features of a task. As an example the authors provide the case of the Ford Pinto, about which I wrote a post in the blog long ago.
  • When there are too many goals… individuals are prone to concentrate on only one goal.
  • When the time horizon is inappropriate… may harm the organization in the long run. Think of quarterly reports and companies trying to beat analysts’ estimates or their own guidance. That is why Coca Cola ceased to provide quarterly guidance back in 2002.
  • When goals are too challenging… they may shift risk attitudes, promote unethical behaviour. An example given describes how Sears’ automotive unit set a target of fee to be charged to customers. This triggered that employees started charging for unnecessary repairs to customers to meet the goals!
  • When goals are complex, specific, challenging… they may inhibit learning.
  • Goals may create a culture of competition instead of cooperation.
  • Goal setting increases extrinsic motivation… and thus can harm intrinsic motivation.

Linked to the message given in the conclusion (“experts need to conceptualize goal setting as a prescription strength medication that requires careful dosing, consideration of harmful side effects, and close supervision”), the authors also propose the following warning signal and a check list to be used when setting goals.

Goals Gone Wild Warning Signal.

Goals Gone Wild warning signal.

Leave a comment

Filed under Personal development & HR