Monthly Archives: June 2010

Book review: Pirate Latitudes

I bought this book together with some others in the Books & News shop of Schiphol airport in Amsterdam in a recent trip to NL. I have read about this book sometime ago as it had been discovered in the computer files of Michael Crichton after his death.

I had read most of his last books so I was determined to buy this last one as soon as I would find it and so did I.

I found this book quite different from his last novels (Next, State of Fear, Prey…), but still, it was a quite entertaining reading about pirates in the Caribbean hunting treasures, fighting warships, storms, hurricanes, aborigines…

I would remark its very vivid descriptions everything related to sailing, firing cannons, the Caribbean, etc. One more thing I liked it about it is that it leaves the reader rested with all vengeances possible, well taken. I do recommend the book (387 pgs.).

Lastly, I found out in the Wikipedia that there will probably be a movie about this book by Steven Spielberg and even most intriguing: there is yet another novel by Crichton coming posthumously in 2012!

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Opera with subtitles

Last Saturday I went to the Opera with my Dutch family. We went to see “La Clemenza di Tito”, by Mozart, at the Lucent Danstheater in The Hague.

I used to go often to concerts with my parents when I was teen, when they would buy season tickets. From last Saturday’s experience, I wanted to comment on a feature of the theatre that I had never seen before: at the theatre, in The Hague, there was a screen displaying a Dutch translation of the dialogues sang by the opera singers at the play.

When I attended with my parents we had to previously read the programme in order to follow the plot as (1) it isn’t easy to follow dialogues when they are sung and (2) they sang in Italian. Now, all you have to do is to sit comfortably and listen to the music while reading the plot much as if you would watch a movie in original version with subtitles. Dutch society is one step beyond regarding pragmatism.

See in the scheme of the theatre where the screen is located (as you may imagine I couldn’t take pictures of the screen).

Drawing of Lucent theatre.

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I was disappointed with La Alhambra

I visited La Alhambra in the Easter of 2009 and I was disappointed with it. I have always heard wonderful stories, descriptions… one day it was Bill Clinton bringing Hillary there, other day it was about the sunset… the case is that I didn’t find anything there that I hadn’t seen in the Reales Alcazares in Seville (where I spent a year studying and working) and in a better state of conservation.

Whenever I say this to someone, their reply is “but it’s not only the buildings, it’s the atmosphere, the location, the view…”… mmm… yes, sure, but I came there expecting to see one of the Seven Wonders in the World… and frankly, I have seen other breathtaking places (Machu Picchu, Iguaçu falls…) where you don’t need someone reminding you that “it’s not only this, you need also to take into account that…”.

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Giving feedback at Pixar

Reading the a past issue of The Economist I came across the article “Planning for the sequel”, about how Pixar is preparing itself to continue with its creativity levels for the long-term.

The newspaper remarks two aspects of Pixar’s approach: the company puts people before projects and effort in getting people work together. Regarding the second reason, let me paste some of the sentences of the article:

“Employees show unfinished work to one another in daily meetings, so get used to giving and receiving constructive criticism.

[…] This system of constant feedback is designed to bring problems to the surface before they mutate into crises, and to provide creative teams with a source of inspiration.

[…] Pixar demands that each review identify at least five things that did not go well in the film, as well as five that did.”

Having been a member of the public speaking association Toastmasters for two years I have had the chance of seeing hundreds of evaluations. Evaluations of prepared speeches, of impromptu speeches, of meetings, of evaluators, of skilled and beginner speakers… it is not a so easy task to sit and think in a couple of minutes of 5 things that you really liked and some valuable points of improvement. It’s even less easy to speak them up in a structured, candid and, at the same time, encouraging way. And that is another thing that you can learn in Toastmasters: giving feedback through effective evaluations.

See how we do it in written at Madrid Toastmasters club (Excelencia Toastmasters uses the same form in Spanish):

Madrid Toastmasters club evaluation form.

No wonder that the majority of the 12,500 Toastmasters clubs worldwide are corporate clubs.

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Scotch whisky

Yesterday I was reading an article in The Economist about the whisky industry, and I found a thread to follow: Spain being the third largest export market of Scotch whisky!

After having travelled through different European countries and seeing the drinking habits in each place I could almost predict that more whisky was consumed here than in other European countries.

I searched for the source of these data, the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA), which published a release in April 15th on the export data from 2009.

Despite the global crisis, whisky exports continued to rise both in terms of revenues and bottles. But let’s dig into the data.

Looking first at the numbers of bottles exported we see that the leading country is France with almost 180 million 70cl bottles, followed by USA and Spain (with 87 million bottles). The first 10 countries account for 60% of the export market.

Because France and USA are more populated than Spain, I was interested in comparing the ratio number of bottles exported by inhabitant… and now the leading country was by far Singapore, with over 10 bottles per inhabitant per year… either there is something we miss in the picture or there is very heavy scotch drinking going on there (taking into account that not everyone drinks whisky, less people imported scotch). Among those 10 main markets Spain again came in third with an average of 1.9 bottles per inhabitant, though we should keep in mind that this number only reflects the bottles exported from Scotland; not whisky consumption in the country (Irish, US or Spanish whisky is not counted here).

Scotch whisky exports, by number of bottles.

There is another statistic given in the same release: revenues. What I wanted to know with this was the export price per bottle.  Not all top ten countries by number of bottles were among the top ten by revenues, but with those which were I did the calculation. The average price resulted 2.9 sterling pounds, around 3.37 €… so the other ~9€ up to the 12€ price you see in the shop are costs related to transportation, retail shops, etc.

Scotch whisky exports, by revenues and bottle price.

In the SWA site you may find very useful information such as distilleries to be visited in Scotland, etc.

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Largest defence companies

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) is, in their own words, an independent international institute dedicated to research into conflict, armaments, arms control and disarmament. Every year they publish their famous SIPRI Yearbook with data about international conflicts, defence spending, defence companies…

In a previous post I showed cartograms of countries relative to their defence spending, etc. In this post I want to show a bit about the industry.

From the information of last year’s book, we find that of the 10 world biggest defence companies 6 are US companies and 4 European, though the biggest one is the British BAE Systems.

Among the first hundred companies (121 including subsidiaries) there are 4 Spanish: CASA (EADS), Navantia, Indra and Santa Barbara (General Dynamics). This places Spain as the 7th country by number of large defence companies. SIPRI publishes as well a fact sheet titled “Trends in International Arms Transfer”; in that one (data from 2005-2009) Spain is placed as the 8th country by arms exports.

Countries by number of large defence companies.

Countries by defence sales.

Finally, with the information provided by SIPRI I built the following (simplified) table where you may see which are the biggest defence companies by revenues and see how much of their business is relying on defence activities (big conglomerates like GE or UTC do not rely heavily on defence).

Defence companies by defence revenues and reliance on defence.

It is also interesting to look at the previous picture but isolating only the US companies…

US Defence companies by defence revenues and reliance on defence.

… and then taking a look at European ones:

European Defence companies by defence revenues and reliance on defence.

You may see that the top-right corner is almost exclusive domain of US companies, except for BAE, which has a big presence in the US defence market.

In this latest table you would see how the complete picture (with all 121 companies) would look like, with an atomization of smaller companies at the bottom.

Complete picture with 121 companies.

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Bye, Vistalegre

On Wednesday 2nd June I attended Real Madrid – Caja Laboral basketball match at Vistalegre. Even in the case of winning, I was not going be able to attend the following match on Friday 4th and I had a gut feeling that it was going to be the last match I watched at Vistalegre since Real Madrid is moving to La Caja Mágica next season. Moreover, I am not sure whether next year I will take the season-ticket again, so I felt like taking pictures to remember the last 3 years of basket experience.

Even though the team has not won a single title since we started attending matches I must say that it has been a great fun. It all started on the late summer of 2007, when my two friends Pablo´s talked about taking those tickets, and I joined them.

We have had the chance to see great teams (CSKA Moscow, Panathinaikos, Barcelona, Maccabi, TAU…) and great players (Navarro, Rudy, Garbajosa, Papaloukas, Jasikevicius…).

Each year we had to learn about the new signings, which all seemed promising then they weren’t that good (Smith, Tunceri, Pelekanos, Tomas, Hosley, Massey, Papadopoulos, Velickovic, Lavrinovic, …) and the team had to rely mostly on the same players than years before.

This last year seemed even more promising than the previous two: we had signed the best coach in Europe, all new players seemed very effective from the start, the speaker of the stadium really cheered the audience, we were doing great in all competitions, the club even reinstated cheerleaders, when we had a setback an even flashier player would come (Jaric), but then, the year has ended as the previous ones.

One of the best things along these years have been the matches on Thursdays, meaning a break in the work week, a chance to meet friends and have a kebab for dinner where to continue talking about planes, the company, etc.

Maybe next year will be a better one, though I’m afraid I won’t be in the North side whistling rival attacks and referees decisions…

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