Monthly Archives: December 2012

Summary of (my) 2012

Let me share with you a brief recap of my 2012. (1)

Seychelles

Finally engaged.

I defined 2010 as a learning year, 2011 as a year on the run… I would describe my 2012 as a year of change:

  • I proposed to Luca and we’ll getting married in May 2013.
  • Luca came to live in Toulouse together with me last September, 4 years after having left Madrid to become a lawyer in The Netherlands.
  • My boss at the beginning of the year, Werner, moved to Germany thus I started reporting to his boss. A colleague, Paula, moved to another department and I had to fill the gap for some months trying to learn a complete new field for me. Yet another colleague, Rosa, moved to another country, and I will partially take over her role… and this implies managing a small team of 3 from January 1st.

I guess that all these changes didn’t give me the stability needed to fulfil all the objectives I had set myself at the beginning of the year… but don’t think 2012 wasn’t rich of events and fun. Have a seat in the roller coaster and run with me:

Sports. I wanted to do plenty of sports… in the end I run some 1,500 kilometres. I competed in 9 races, including tonight’s San Silvestre and two marathons: Paris and Berlin. I set personal best times in marathon (Paris, 3h45′) and 10k. I was not able to do so in half marathon due to an injury in the summer. Injuries forced me to run some 300 kilometres less than in 2011.

The year 2012 caught me running in Toulouse, Paris, Berlin, Torrelodones, Madrid, Sevilla, Rijswick, Papendal, Huelva, Asturias, Gaillac… so in a way it was also a year on the run. I also played some paddle, swam some days (including at North Sea, latitude 58º…) and got started with golf!

Learning. This year was also heavy on the learning side. It could have been much heavier if I had reached all my objectives. On the job I had to learn a great deal about configuration management in Airbus and will have to continue to do so, about leading and managing teams, about A400M aircraft systems…

Off of the job:

  • I subscribed to 4 online courses from Coursera and other platforms at the beginning of the year. I kept up with Codecademy for some 2 months while could not finish any of those courses (on valuation, corporate finance, game theory and model thinking). However, at the end of the year I took on some other 3 courses from Venture Lab and this time I did complete all 3 of them!
  • Languages: I started studying Dutch at the beginning of the year and I kept up with it for some 2-3 months… 2013 will force me to re-take it. French…
  • Toastmasters: I almost didn’t attend to my club meetings. I took part in the contests, though. having good experiences in the Spring winning both speech and evaluation and not so good in Autumn, not winning any, though being able to compete also at the area level.

Reading. At the beginning of the year I wanted to read at least 15 books. I started well, but in the end I have finished just 10 while being half way through other 4. Check out “my 2012 reading list“, including just the finished ones.

Investing & helping others. I again set myself high objectives for saving and investing. This year however, the engagement changed the focus of the savings: from stock market to a preference for cash, at least until all the wedding expenses have been paid out. On the charities side: this year I directed 0.9% of my net income to different NGOs (soon I’ll make a similar contribution, check out which ones will I support this time).

Travelling. This year either with Luca, with friends or alone, I visited Monaco (flying aboard a helicopter again!), Seychelles (where I proposed to Luca!), Asturias (twice), Huelva, The Netherlands (Papendal, Rijswick), Berlin – Nürnberg – Munich, Sevilla (twice), Madrid, Scotland, Corsica, Nancy, Geneva… those were the leisure trips; the job made me go to Madrid another 20-25 times (?), that made it tiresome and difficult to combine with other things.

Javi 2.0. For another year I kept it up with the blog. I recently reached 300 posts. I’m not sure whether I’ll always write about 100 posts per year, but if life keeps getting more interesting and I’ve got the time, count on it.

Change of plans due to the bad weather in the mountains, heading south to the coastline, re-calculating the route.

Flying back from Corsica.

Flying. Last year I took on flying lessons. I was slower in this front that had wished to, though it wasn’t always easy to find time slots to fly with so many trips on weekends. I recently surpassed 20 flight hours and started with go-arounds in the airport. Without any doubt, the trip to Corsica with a colleague was the best flying experience of the year. I’ll hopefully start with solo flights at the beginning of 2013 (beware!).

Other reasons for joy…

  • It goes without saying it: Luca came to Toulouse!
  • My sister, Beatriz, completed her masters in Political Sciences. My father spent some 5 months in Bolivia working for NGO teaching children a bit of maths and who-knows-what (he is doing similar work for NGOs now in Madrid), mom kept on giving massages and Jaime had roller coaster year with the A400M!
  • Some friends and relatives got married… Fernando, Diego, Héctor, Sergio, Ceci.
  • Newborns: Clara, Lenny…

Now it’s time to rest, celebrate and soon to update the objectives setting for 2013. I believe I’ll give myself a more relaxed set of personal goals to cope with job changes, personal changes and else. One thing I am sure of: 2013 will be, again, the best year of my life!

I wish you the same: the best for 2013, enjoy it!

(1) This post is becoming a classic of the blog (like those talking about aircraft discounts, best and worst posts, charities I support, etc). You can see my 2010 and 2011 recaps.

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My 2012 reading list

At the beginning of the year I set as a personal objective to read at least 15 books. This will be a low number for some of you and a high one for others. To me it looked challenging but achievable… though, I did not achieve it. I completed 10 books and started other 4 which I have not yet finished (they’ll be included in the next year reading list).

See below the list with a small comment for each one, the link to a post about the book in the blog (when applicable), links to Amazon (in case you want to get them) and sometimes to the authors. I have also included a small rating from one to three “+” depending on how much do I recommend its reading:

  1. This time is different” (by C. Reinhart and K. Rogoff) (++): very interesting book offering a comprehensive book to economic and financial crises since 8 centuries ago. The book is full of graphics, statistics, example, anecdotes… I already wrote three posts about it: “The Republic of Poyais“, “The march toward fiat money” and “¿Cómo le ha ido a España en esta crisis?“. 
  2. Le Petit Prince” (by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry) (++): even if narrated as a children’s book, it contains several idealistic messages, fine criticisms of how adults behave, etc. The teachings are mainly transmitted through conversations between a child and the prince and encounters with other characters… I wrote a post about it “Le Petit Prince“.
  3. The consequences of the peace” (by John M. Keynes) (+++): the book was written at the time of the Versailles Conference after the World War I, which he attended as a delegate from the British Treasury. In the book, Keynes explained how the disaster in the making was being produced, due to lack of communication between representatives from USA, UK, France and Italy, and the intention from Clemenceau of taking as much as possible from Germany. Keynes makes a series of estimates of Germany’s production capabilities and that of the regions being taken from it and comparing them with the pretensions that were being included in the negotiations of the treaty. In the book, he warns well in advance the economic and social disaster that the treaty is going to send Germany into. (I have not yet written a specific review of the book, but since I had underlined several passages I don’t discard writing it).
  4. Le bal des ambitions” (by Véronique Guillermard and Yann le Galès) (+): the book tells the story behind the creation of EADS and its first years. Very much like in a thriller, it gives account about the characters involved, the battles for power, etc. I wrote a post about it “Le Bal des ambitions“.
  5. Desolé, nous avons raté la piste” (by Stephan Orth and Antje Blinda) (+): The book consists of a series of awkward situations in a flight described by passengers, pilots and cabin crew, mainly miscommunications between the crew and passengers or funny messages received from the cockpit. The book originated after a collection of the anecdotes posted by readers of the online version of Der Spiegel. . See the review I wrote about it “Sorry, I missed the runway“.
  6. Poor Charlie’s Almanack: The Wit and Wisdom of Charles T. Munger” (by Charlie Munger, compiled by Peter D. Kaufman) (+++): the book is a compilation of Munger’s speeches, quotes, interviews, articles, letters, etc. Some of his speeches are available in Youtube (e.g. this one given for the commencement of USC Law in 2007). One of the main takeaways is the use of several mental models to analyze situations we live in our lives (instead of being stalled in the few models which we are more comfortable with). Another recurring topic is the lack of training in psychology that we get (or even his criticism of how psychology is taught in faculties). I haven’t written a post about the book, but I think I should, if only to share more of his wit and wisdom with you.
  7. The Peter Principle: Why Things Go Wrong” (by Laurence J. Peter) (+++): the book is a hilarious account of situations that arise in companies and institutions of why and how people are promoted, cornered, etc., or in his words is a treatise on hierarchology. The name of the book comes from the Peter Principle which says: “In a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence”. I already wrote about it here.
  8. 2010 Odyssey Two” (by Arthur C. Clarke) (++): the book is a sequel to the famous “2001: A Space Odyssey“, and there is a movie as about this book. The story starts with doctor Heywood Lloyd travelling in a combined Soviet-American mission to Jupiter in order to find the spaceship Discovery One from the previous mission and what went wrong with it… I won’t tell more of the plot to avoid spoiling it for someone. I would say that I liked more this book (and movie) than the first one.
  9. The Litigators” (by John Grisham) (++): this novel is very much like most of John Grisham. In this one the plot is about a star young lawyer graduated from Harvard Law School who cannot stand the pressure from a big firm and quits it to join a mediocre small firm with two partners who chase victims of small accidents to help them get some  compensation from insurance companies, with the hope of reaching the big class action which could make the rich.
  10. Soccernomics” (by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski) (+++): the authors use economics’ techniques, plenty of data, statistics, citing several papers, studies, etc., in order to bring up uncovered issues about football (such as transfer market, what makes some nations more successful in football…) or refocus the attention about other ones. See the review I wrote about it.

I also completed two other partial objectives: to read at least 2 books in French and 2 about politics/economy. And as always, on the learning side from reading there is Twitter (a source of information or distraction?), the subscriptions delivered to home of the weekly The Economist and the two monthly magazines Scientific American and Toastmasters.

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Online education

At the beginning of the year I started some online courses: Coding with Codecademy, Valuation and Corporate Finance with Coursekit (which was later acquired by Lore), and Game Theory and Model Thinking with Coursera.

Together with other life and work commitments, it became tough to follow the courses and in the end I dropped them.

In autumn I received an email from a friend pointing to another online course: “Finance” from Venture Lab platform. I took a look at it… In the end I subscribed to 3 course from that platform: “Finance”, “Technology Entrepreneurship” and “A Crash Course on Creative Thinking”.

They were simultaneous and finishing them has been quite challenging; but this time, yes, I completed all of them.

I wanted to share with you some thoughts about the courses:

Finance: we could say that this was the more boring course for the general public (even though 32,500 students from all over the world subscribed to it… I don’t know how many completed it, probably less than 10%). It started with basic theory of interest and time value of money to get more into the fine details of term structure, building bond portfolios, risk measures, CAPM.

Every week there were about 1h30′ of videos to watch (some quite dull) and exercises to complete (not so easy to solve). On top of that, at mid-way through the course there was a project on bond portfolio (term structure calculation, immunization against rates changes, portfolio building) to be completed between teams.

Team working with different time-zones proved difficult in this project. But the possibility to discuss ideas and results, coupled with the online forum with dozens of students posting questions, problems, hints, etc., proved very valuable for the learning process.

A part from that, there was a textbook (“Investment Science” [PDF, 7MB], by David G. Luenberger) that could be consulted and, of course, Google ready to be posed all kinds of questions.

What did I learn? On the finance side: CAPM, time value of money, etc., were things I had already studied in the past, but not so the term structure, immunization and creation of bond portfolios, the detail and theory behind CAPM, etc. Other take away has been learning to use Microsoft Excel Solver Add-in to solve systems of equations (I hadn’t use it in the past).

Technology Entrepreneurship: Above 34,600 people from all corners of the world subscribed to this course. So many people with good ideas dream with setting up a company. I believe that is the best thing out of this course. You can feel the energy and passion in some of the teams.

The course consists of some weekly videos by the instructor (Chuck Eesley) and some assignment. The videos are great. Full of models, studies, cases, interviews to entrepreneurs, VCs, etc. Very rich content can be found there. The whole set of videos is available in Youtube, starting with the first video here.

This course was 100% practical and very fast-paced. You had to form a team and really get into launching a real product if you wanted to get the best out of the course. Assignments were due very one or two weeks, and included creating a business model canvas, identifying an opportunity, building a low-fidelity prototype of the product, testing the value proposition with customers, building a higher fidelity prototype, creating a marketing page and testing it… At the end of the course mentors for the team were also available.

Our team started out quite well. We all had a similar idea and completed the first steps (I posted about it), but later on we lost some momentum. It was a pity, but it also reflect how difficult is to form and work in a team in a start-up, especially as we were not seeing each other (based in the USA, France and UK). I guess that is one take-away of the course. Another lesson is related to the time you’re willing to commit to it. If carrying out the exercises took some time, starting a company will be a totally different undertaking… a full-time job.

From this perspective, it is good also the last assignment of the course, the “Personal Business Plan”. With it you can reflect on personal priorities, what you’re willing to do, how do you see yourself in some years time, etc.

A Crash Course on Creative Thinking: As I already explained in a previous post, I joined this course because I thought it could be fun and it consisted mainly on forcing yourself to be creative, to do things that you would normally never do. I was surprised to see that almost 41,600 students subscribed to it (more than to any of the previous 2 courses.

This course was light on videos and reading materials. It mainly consisted on completing the assignments. For that you had to break your comfort zone some times and always be on the look out for ideas. Some of the exercises included: observation of shops, filming a video combining objects to create a new sport, brainstorming for 100 solutions to a given problem, creating stories…

What did I learn? From the learning side I could mention the innovation engine model of the instructor,  Tina Seelig, or the 6 thinking hats from de Bono. But more important than that was the idea of combining solutions, setting wild objectives such as coming up not with 10 ideas, but 100!

General reflections:

  • Videos need to be engaging. It would be also good if the materials were available for reading in all cases.
  • Team working proved difficult online: different time zones, tight deadlines, not being able to meet each other…
  • Feedback from other students: some exercises required other groups to rate your work. This was a two-sided sword. Sometimes you would get good insightful comments and others a bad rating without feedback.
  • Time: “online” doesn’t mean easy, nor short, quick… If there are exercises to complete, videos to film and edit, projects to prepare… it will require time (the same as if the instruction was given offline).
  • Certificates: all three courses are not official Stanford courses, though the instructors send a “Statement of Accomplishment” after satisfactory performance and completion of the course. I guess that with time more institutions will go towards this model. I even think that official certificates will be delivered for these kind of online education.
  • Market place: One of the courses included a survey after course completion. Among the questions two caught my attention: they were related to the reasons behind having taken the course. Was it the topic only? The teacher? The institution? Once you can have access to the best teachers, the best universities, the most innovative courses from your home, some things will change. When laboratories or practical exercises are still needed the old system may still have an edge. But who would pay thousands of dollars to study finance from the best Harvard teacher when you can get it free from Stanford or Columbia. The certificate, yes… and what is more: what will be the place in this market for smaller universities without a name in the global market place?

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The best (and the worst) of the first 300 posts

This post is a classic of the blog: A hundredth post dedicated to show which were the most and least read of the first 300 posts. (I wrote two just posts when I reached the first 100 and 200 posts in the blog).

Since I started the blog in February 2010, the blog has received over 65,000 visits and hundreds of comments.

Find below the list of the top 10 and bottom 10 posts:

1. Will Boeing 787 ever break-even?
2. Impuestos en Francia vs. España
3. 787 Break Even for Dummies
4. Airbus vs. Boeing, comparison of market forecasts (2011)
5. Patek Philippe Caliber 89
6. Mi adiós a Ibercaja
7. Airbus vs. Boeing, comparison of market forecasts
8. Beluga vs. Dreamlifter
9. More on Boeing 787 break even
10. FC Barcelona copying Real Madrid

290. The origin of football in Spain
291. Opera with subtitles
292. “Caimaneando”
293. Resist the bias to act
294. Studios are more profitable than flats
295. Casablanca
296. De Feria en Feria
297. From climbing to merely walking
298. International Day of the Book
299. Book review: Pirate Latitudes

Comparing the lists to the previous 2 years ones: 7 posts of the 10 most read ones in 2011 are still there while only 2 remain from the most read after the first 100 posts. On the least read ones: 6 were in the list after 200 while only 3 in the list after 100.

Let’s see what I’ll write in the next 100 posts…

NOTE: the box in the right showing “Current Top Posts” shows the most read ones in the last two days, not the all-time most read ones (the ones above).

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Ulysses S. Grant on micro management

I loved the candid and at the same time generous description of Union’s general Warren problem with micro management given by Ulysses S. Grant in his “Personal Memoirs”:

Warren’s difficulty was twofold: when he received an order to do anything, it would at once occur to his mind how all the balance of the army should be engaged so as properly to co-operate with him. His ideas were generally good, but he would forget that the person giving him orders had thought of others at the time he had of him. In like manner, when he did get ready to execute an order, after giving most intelligent instructions to division commanders, he would go in with one division, holding the others in reserve until he could superintend their movements in person also, forgetting that division commanders could execute an order without his presence. His difficulty was constitutional and beyond his control. He was an officer of superior ability, quick perceptions, and personal courage to accomplish anything that could be done with a small command.

Well intentioned, with good ideas, forgetting the bigger picture, wanting to keep everything under control, uncapabale of delegating and empowering… evidently, general Warren must had been an excellent officer of a lower rank (“with a small command“) who was raised to his level of incompetence (“His difficulty was constitutional and beyond his control“) following “The Peter Principle” :-).

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Was Orville Wright’s the first flight ever?

Last Monday, December 17, it was 109 years since the first flight of the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk. However, there was some skepticism in Europe about the flight. I had already read about that skepticism in the book “The Airplane: How ideas gave us wings“(1) (by Jay Spencer (2))

In the book, the reader gets the idea of the skepticism, of how in France there was also a race for performing the first flight and how it was not until the Wright brothers flew in Europe years later (1908) that people got convinced of that first flight in 1903. When I read about that, the idea that came to my mind was French chauvinism.

Let me now start connecting the dots…

Flyer I (picture by 350z33, available at Wikimedia)

  • Visiting the National Air & Space Museum, in Washington D.C., you could see a real scale Flyer I, the aircraft with which the brothers first flew. When you see the aircraft you first notice that the surface controls are at the front of the airplane, or that the airplane has no independent ailerons but the wing is bent at the tip…
  • Reading the book “The Airplane” there is chapter dedicated to the evolution of each configuration item of the aircraft. One of them is dedicated to the landing gear. In relation to the Flyer…

[…] European experimenters put the Wrights to shame by adopting wheeled undercarriages from the outset. The Wrights stuck with skids far too long, perhaps because they viewed their airplanes as scientific proof-of-concept vehicles first and practical machines second.

  • Last summer, when we visited the Aviodrome (3) museum in The Netherlands, we found another Flyer model of the Wrights. This one was a bit more complete: it showed the skids and how the airplane was propelled into the air thanks to a system composed of rails and a kind of catapult.
  • Finally, when reading about French aviation pioneers for the previous post in this blog, I got to read in the Wikipedia article about the Brazilian residing in France Santos-Dumont the following passage:

The Wrights used a launching rail for their 1903 flights and a launch catapult for their 1904 and 1905 machines, while the aircraft of Santos-Dumont and other Europeans had wheeled undercarriages. The Wright Brothers continued to use skids, which necessitated the use of a dolly running on a track. The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, founded in France in 1905 to verify aviation records, stated among its rules that an aircraft should be able to take off under its own power in order to qualify for a record. Supporters of Santos-Dumont maintain that this means the 14-bis was, technically, the first successful fixed-wing aircraft.

Thus, it was not just simple French chauvinism as the more simple explanation given either in “The Airplane” or Wikipedia article about the Wright brothers may point to, but there was at the time a discussion about the way in which the aircraft were indeed propelled into the air. That is a legitimate discussion, not chauvinism. (4)

Since I am not invested in either position, to me the first flight will always be the generally accepted of Orville Wright on December 17, 1903. That is the one I celebrate (see tweet below). However, you can see how sometimes to get a clearer picture and connect some dots it takes visiting 2 museums in DC and The Netherlands, reading a book and serendipity researching in the Wikipedia. 🙂

(1) “The Airplane” is a terrific book of which one day I hope to write a review. By the way I purchased the book at Boeing HQ in Chicago almost 2 years ago.

(2) Jay Spencer is also coauthor of “747” another great aviation book of which I wrote a review here.

(3) Aviodrome is a great museum north of Amsterdam, at the height of the Smithsonian institution National Air & Space Museum… if only it had free entrance as well. I will have to write about this museum too.

(4) That same federation did not accept as a first flight one made by the French Clément Ader in 1890, because it was an un-controlled flight.

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