Monthly Archives: January 2014

My charities for 2014 are…

“If you’re in the luckiest one per cent of humanity, you owe it to the rest of humanity to think about the other 99 per cent.” Warren Buffett

I take for granted that most people are to some extent concerned by others and many contribute in different ways to alleviate others’ burdens. Some find it that these contributions should rather be kept private. In this regard, I take the opposite approach.

I try to be as public as I can, hoping that I may serve the causes I contribute to also from the awareness point of view. Take this blog post as an example. I expect that it will be read by over 100 people. If just a reader feels compelled by the message and decides to look for a cause to contribute to, the time spent by me writing this post will have been worth it.

Let’s go and see the different causes I decided to support in this 2014 (1):

AACR, the last organization I decided to support.

Kiva, Vittana, Oxfam, MSF, Slavery International, Wikipedia, Fundacion Hombres Nuevos, Gapminder, American Association for Cancer Research Foundation… those are the causes I decided to support this year. If not one of those, I am sure that you will be able to find one which resonates with you. Do yourself a favour and contribute to it. It can be just 25$, the cost of diner at a restaurant. You’ll feel much better. 

“No one has ever become poor by giving.” Anne Frank, diary of Anne Frank

(1) You may check out similar posts I wrote about contributions to NGOs in 2013 and 2012.

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The most (and least) read of the first 400 posts

A classic post of the blog: a recap at each hundredth post dedicated to show which were the most and least read of the first 400 posts. (1)

Since I started the blog in February 2010, the blog has received over 118,000 visits and hundreds of comments.

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

1. Impuestos en Francia vs. España
2. Will Boeing 787 ever break-even?
3. 787 Break Even for Dummies
4. Mi adiós a Ibercaja
5. Impuestos en Francia vs. España (actualización 2012)
6. Monaco GP Walking Tour
7. Airbus vs. Boeing, comparison of market forecasts (2012)
8. Airbus vs. Boeing, comparison of market forecasts (2011)
9. Patek Philippe Caliber 89
10. Beluga vs. Dreamlifter

390. Ballesteros (the movie)
391. “Caimaneando”
392. From climbing to merely walking
393. De Feria en Feria
394. Not just another letter
395. The Art of War
396. Lowell Observatory
397. Casablanca
398. Book review: Pirate Latitudes
399. International Day of the Book

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

(1) I wrote three just posts when I reached the first 100200 and 300 posts in the blog.

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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Confusion of Confusions

Shuffling books among shelfs at home a few days ago, I came across “Confusión de Confusiones” by José de la Vega (Confusion of Confusions in English). This is a book I had referred to a couple of times in this blog but I never wrote about it.

José de la Vega was born in the province of Córdoba in Spain in around 1650. The family, Jewish, moved to today’s Netherlands to profess its faith. In 1688, he wrote Confusión de Confusiones, the oldest book ever written about the stock exchange business. The book takes the form of a dialogue between a shareholder, a philosopher and a businessman.

I read a hard cover Spanish version of the book edited by Macanaz. The editors did a great job. The book includes a ~30-pages dictionary at the end translating old Spanish words, Latin words, providing explanations for characters and places mentioned, etc. It also includes a 5-pages recap of the main advises José de la Vega provides to investors along the book.

The Amsterdam stock market at that time suffered from all the ailments that stock markets suffer today: hysteria, bulls and bears, irrationality, information asymmetry, etc. It is worth noting that the stock market at that time consisted of: one single trading place, Amsterdam, and one single company, the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, VOC). This may lead to think that everything should be quieter at that time, but as the author notes (1):

[…] you shall know that the Shares have three stimuli to go up and another three to go down: the status of India, the disposition of Europe and the gambling of the Shareholders. Thus, very often the news do not produce any benefit, because they take the flows to another direction.

The health of the business, the mood in the market place and the selling and buying of investors and speculators. That is all that it takes to provoke the financial ups and downs that in the end cause stock market crashes.

About the place and the way the market operated, he explained (extract from Google digitized English version, public domain, which however omits some paragraphs):

Extract from "Confusión de Confusiones".

Extract from “Confusión de Confusiones”.

To conclude with the comments on the book I will include here some of the advises from the author, first in Spanish so the readers of the blog who understand it can capture the language and then translated:

“Los necios, que de todo se afligen, de todo se lamentan, de todo se desesperan.”

“Los que están con la soga en la garganta no tienen otro cortejo que de verdugos.”

“¿Qué vale no arriesgar la hacienda, si se pierde el Alma?”

“Si el que compra algunas partidas, ve que bajan, rabia de haber comprado, si suben, rabia de que no compró más; si compra, suben, vende, gana, y vuelan aun a más alto precio del que ha vendido, rabia de que vendió por menor precio; si no compra ni vende, y van subiendo, rabia de que habiendo tenido impulsos de comprar, no llegó a lograr los impulsos.”

“En acciones no se debe dar consejo a nadie, porque donde está encantado el acierto, mal puede lucir airoso el consejo.”

“La máxima de los accionistas veteranos, es No casarse con las Acciones.”

“En perdiendo esperar, en ganando recoger.”

“Es ignorancia haberos dejado engañar, porque precediendo para la constancia tantos avisos, no pueden tener descargo los errores.”

“No quieren apercibir esta filosofía los inquietos, y como son aire, y es aire lo que tratan, para fabricar torres en el aire, juzgan que cuanto más se mueven más se exaltan, cuanto más se agitan más se calientan, y cuanto más se calientan más crecen.”

“Quien tal hace, que tal pague.”

“El punto no estaba en ver cómo se había de entrar, sino en considerar cómo se había de salir.”

… (see translations below (2))

Each of those sentences would suggest a topic for a whole post in itself; advisors, frequent trading, bubbles, short-term view, banks bail outs, etc…

The book is great, however it is quite difficult to read. Jose de la Vega lived in 1688 and was a philosopher; be prepared for the language he uses and the use of ancient History episodes to illustrate his explanations.

Finally, researching for this post I learned in the Wikipedia that the Federation of European Securities Exchanges (FESE) awards each year a prize honouring De la Vega to authors of outstanding research related to the securities markets in Europe. You can see here the list of winners of the prize.

Curiously enough, the 2013 prize went to Sophie Moinas from Toulouse School of Economics, for her paper “Liquidity Supply across Multiple Trading Venues” (jointly with Laurence Lescourret).

(1) Translations are mine, as I noted the book I have is a Spanish version of it.

(2) Translations of the advises:

“Fools, they grieve about everything, lament everything, despair with everything.”

“The ones with the rope in the throat are not courted by anyone but executioners.”

“What is it worth not to bet the house, if the soul is lost?”

“The one who buy some shares, if they, is angry at having bought, if they go up , is angry because he did not buy more; if he buys, they go up, sells, wins, and the share fly even higher than the price at which he sold, he is angry for having sold at a lower price; if he neither bought nor sold, and he sees the shares going up, he is angry because having had buying impulses, he failed to buy.”

“Regarding shares one should not give advice to anyone, because where success is haunted, it is difficult that the advice looks graceful.”

“The mantra of veteran shareholders, is Not marry the Shares.”

“When losing wait, when winning collect.”

“You have been an ignorant for having let yourself fooled, because preceding such a record of warnings, there can not be excuse for errors. “

“The restless do not want to embrace this philosophy, and like the air they are, and air is what they trade, to build castles in the air, they judge that the more they move the more exalted they are, the more agitated they are more over heated they become, and the more hotter they become they grow more.”

“He who does that, he who shall pay that.”

“The point was not in seeing how to enter in it, but in considering how to exit.”

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Livonian, an endangered language

The Livonian is a language of the Finnic family, closely related to Estonian and spoken in the region of Livonia, in the North of Latvia and South of Estonia. I first came across the language in March 2003, during a students’ exchange in the framework of the European Commission Youth programme organized by the students associations of AEGEE Zaragoza and Tartu (Estonia).

During that exchange, in one of the evenings we attended an especially arranged concert in a small bar. The place looked like a cellar. The group of music was introduced to us as the only group singing in the Livonian language. I know wonder whether that group was “Tuļļi Lum“. Sincerely, I cannot remember the name of the group that played that night, other than being presented as the only band singing in Livonian. On the other hand, Tulli Lum was already existing then and the singer studied music in Estonia… who knows.

The Livonian is an endangered language. In 2003, it was introduced to us as being spoken by no more than ~120 people in the World. Today the Wikipedia mentions that the last known native Livonian speaker, Grizelda Kristiņa, died in 2013. Livonian may be spoken as a second language by over 200 people, just about 40 of those with a level of B1 or upper.

In that night in 2003, we were explained that the language was being supported by some European institution funds. It was 10 years ago, I cannot recall the details. I guess they referred to the European Bureau for Lesser-Used Languages (EBLUL). The EBLUL was a NGO set up to promote linguistic diversity and languages. It was founded in 1982 and had close ties with both the European Parliament and the Council of Europe, and was funded by both the European Commission and local and regional governmental organisations.

The European Bureau for Lesser-Used Languages was closed by a decision of its Board of Directors on January 27, 2010. The main official reason given was that “the funding mechanism of such an organisational model [was] not suitable in current circumstances”.

I came across Livonian again when playing with the UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger, which I discovered via Twitter. See a screenshot from the tool below, with the situation of Livonian, “critically endangered” and “revitalized”.

Livonian, UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger.

Livonian, UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger.

I found this tool from UNESCO interesting. I suggest you try it out a bit.

In respect to Livonian:

  • I am happy for those people who played music for us that night back in 2003 that the language seems to be revitalized, though I have no way to measure or sense that.
  • On the other hand, and despite of the criticism that my position may create, and as I have mentioned in several conversations in the past: I see no wrong in letting the language die. I do not see the purpose in pumping public European funds so that a language can be taught to non-native students at some universities. I am almost glad to see that the EBLUL has closed down and clearly understand why “the funding mechanism of such an organisational model [was] not suitable in current circumstances”.

Surely, this is my opinion and I respect those who believe that each and every language should be preserved no matter what costs in the name of culture, historical heritage, and you name it. In UNESCO’s words:

Every language reflects a unique world-view with its own value systems, philosophy and particular cultural features. The extinction of a language results in the irrecoverable loss of unique cultural knowledge embodied in it for centuries, including historical, spiritual and ecological knowledge that may be essential for the survival of not only its speakers, but also countless others.

My view: I am a native Spanish speaker thanks to some language evolution that meant that once almighty Latin is no longer spoken outside of the Vatican City, plus the extinction of who knows how many ancient languages spoken by my ancestors.

It especially strikes me the language used by UNESCO: “ecological knowledge that may be essential for the survival of not only its speakers, but also countless others.” I guess it’s quite the contrary. Had a certain language been so essential to the survival of its speakers and its extinction would have not taken place (or am I getting something wrong with what evolution means?). 

Luckily, the same evolution process has happened in all parts around the world: allowing over 400 million of people to speak Spanish as a mother tongue and allowing us to fairly understand each other in several corners of the world.

Language is the human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication, and a language is any specific example of such a system.

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Carta abierta a “La mujer de la terminal”

Carta abierta a “La mujer de la terminal”:

No es la primera vez que nos vemos. El pasado 29 de diciembre nos volvimos a encontrar en la terminal. Esta vez fue en la T4. Hablo del aeropuerto Barajas, cuál si no. Nuestros anteriores encuentros habían sido en la T1; el último hace unos 5 años, el primero hace 7… Tú seguramente de no te acordarás de mí. Confieso que yo casi te había olvidado, pero el pasado día 29, al escuchar tus palabras, tuve un déjà vu instantáneo. Me acordé de ti, pero apenas te dediqué dos palabras.

En nuestro último encuentro yo actué como si fuese con prisa. Me acompañaban Luca y Andrea (sí, en estos años me he casado y he sido padre)  y en un primer instante no tuve el arrojo de darte más conversación. Me arrepentí casi inmediatamente. Luego te estuve buscando con la mirada por si te volvía a ver. Para no volver a olvidar tu cara. Quién sabe si para mantener otra breve conversación. En algún momento pensé hasta en hacerte una foto. Para no volver a olvidar tu cara.

Al principio pensaba que eras malagueña. El último día dudé. Quizá sea asturiana, me dije. No, no es por el acento. Tienes unos 40 años. El pelo, moreno. Estatura, en torno a un metro sesenta. El último día llevabas un abrigo blanco. Hace tanto tiempo, que ya no recuerdo como ibas vestida las veces anteriores. No sé cómo te llamas, pero sí a qué te dedicas.

Las tres veces que te dirigiste a mí me hablabas en primera persona del plural. Nunca llegué a conocerle a él o a ellos, ni quiero. Solo quiero hablar de ti. Además, una parte de mí me hace dudar de su existencia.

Cuando pienso en ti veo a una persona que vive al día, sin ataduras, sin equipajes. Una persona que cuando va al aeropuerto no se fija en los horarios sino en las personas que se cruzan en su camino. Una persona que vive sin prisas y que a su vez no para de moverse. A veces envidio esa actitud. Te confieso que yo siempre llego con prisa. En los últimos años habré perdido ya unos 4 ó 5 vuelos. Y tú, sin embargo, con esa tranquilidad que te caracteriza no creo que nunca hayas perdido ninguno. Te envidio.

Este último encuentro me ha dado una nueva esperanza. Me he prometido a mí mismo que la próxima vez te dedicaré la atención que mereces. Con esta carta quiero hacer público mi compromiso. Basta ya de excusas y respuestas monosilábicas. Suelo pasar por la T4 dos o tres veces al mes, por favor, volvámonos a encontrar…

  • Perdona, ¿habláis español?
  • Sí.
  • Es que hemos perdido el vuelo a Asturias. Es por si tenéis un poco de dinero.
  • No, gracias.

Esta fue nuestra conversación. Las dos veces anteriores, en 2006 y en torno a 2008, en la T1, esta mujer había perdido el vuelo a Málaga (las 2 veces). Entonces era más precisa: pedía 20 euros para ir a Atocha y comprar un billete de tren (las 2 veces).

En 2006 me pregunté a mi mismo ¿y porque si dice que quiere ir en tren no se va a pedir dinero a Atocha? En seguida supuse que era un engaño. No llevaba equipaje. Hablaba en plural, pero sin nadie que la acompañase.

En 2008 de nuevo vino con la misma historia, “hemos perdido el vuelo a Málaga, necesitamos 20 euros para coger un tren en Atocha”. Tenía el recuerdo de la primera ocasión demasiado reciente.

En 2013 ya lo había olvidado. Esta vez me sorprendió. ¿Asturias? Esta vez no habló de tren ni de Atocha. Seguía sin llevar equipaje y sin ir acompañada.

Otra curiosidad que me surge es, si todo lo que te ha ocurrido es haber perdido el vuelo (cosa que a mí me ha pasado en varias ocasiones), ¿qué te impide ir a comprar otro con tu dinero? Nunca me has mencionado ni que te hayan robado (claro, eso haría que la gente te ayudase a buscar a la policía presente en el aeropuerto), ni que hayas perdido la cartera, ¿por qué habrías de necesitar dinero?

Imagino que los que vamos al aeropuerto a coger un vuelo (y no a timar a gente despistada) vamos… despistados, y no reparamos en estos detalles. Algunos de nosotros se sentirán relacionados con tu situación, apresurados por el tiempo y te darán incluso esos 20 euros.  Desde luego, si en 7 años has seguido haciendo esto, es que no te va del todo mal.

Cuenta conmigo para el próximo encuentro. La próxima vez te dedicaré más tiempo. Espero darte conversación mientras saco el móvil. Acto seguido intentaré hacerte una foto para colgar en este blog. Te ruego que no te enfades conmigo (quizá te ofrezca 20 euros por sacarte esa foto…). Y de paso a ver si me entero de si eres malagueña o asturiana, o madrileña…

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The NSA, the Use of Spies and The Art of War (Sun Tzu)

I reviewed yesterday the book The Art of War (by Sun Tzu) from the point of view teamwork, communication and leadership as that was the interest I had when I have read it this second time. However, there was another chapter that called my attention given the ongoing NSA spying scandal (PRISM surveillance programme) disclosed by The Guardian and The Washington Post in 2013, that was the last on of the book “The Use of Spies“:

Raising a host of a hundred thousand men and marching them great distances entails heavy loss on the people and a drain on the resources of the State. […] There will be commotion at home and abroad, and men will drop down exhausted on the highways. […] Hostile armies may face each other for years, striving for the victory which is decided in a single day. This being so, to remain in ignorance of the enemy’s condition simply because one grudges the outlay of a hundred ounces of silver in honors and emoluments, is the height of inhumanity. One who acts thus is no leader of men, no present help to his sovereign, no master of victory. Thus, what enables the wise sovereign and the good general to strike and conquer, and achieve things beyond the reach of ordinary men, is foreknowledge. Now this foreknowledge cannot be elicited from spirits; it cannot be obtained inductively from experience, nor by any deductive calculation. Knowledge of the enemy’s dispositions can only be obtained from other men.

Hence the use of spies, of whom there are five classes: (1) Local spies; (2) inward spies; (3) converted spies; (4) doomed spies; (5) surviving spies. When these five kinds of spy are all at work, none can discover the secret system. This is called “divine manipulation of the threads.” It is the sovereign’s most precious faculty. Having local spies means employing the services of the inhabitants of a district. Having inward spies, making use of officials of the enemy. Having converted spies, getting hold of the enemy’s spies and using them for our own purposes. Having doomed spies, doing certain things openly for purposes of deception, and allowing our spies to know of them and report them to the enemy. Surviving spies, finally, are those who bring back news from the enemy’s camp.

Hence it is that which none in the whole army are more intimate relations to be maintained than with spies. None should be more liberally rewarded. In no other business should greater secrecy be preserved. Spies cannot be usefully employed without a certain intuitive sagacity. They cannot be properly managed without benevolence and straightforwardness. Without subtle ingenuity of mind, one cannot make certain of the truth of their reports. Be subtle! be subtle! and use your spies for every kind of business. If a secret piece of news is divulged by a spy before the time is ripe, he must be put to death together with the man to whom the secret was told.

Whether the object be to crush an army, to storm a city, or to assassinate an individual, it is always necessary to begin by finding out the names of the attendants, the aides-de-camp, and door-keepers and sentries of the general in command. Our spies must be commissioned to ascertain these. The enemy’s spies who have come to spy on us must be sought out, tempted with bribes, led away and comfortably housed. Thus they will become converted spies and available for our service. It is through the information brought by the converted spy that we are able to acquire and employ local and inward spies. It is owing to his information, again, that we can cause the doomed spy to carry false tidings to the enemy. Lastly, it is by his information that the surviving spy can be used on appointed occasions. The end and aim of spying in all its five varieties is knowledge of the enemy; and this knowledge can only be derived, in the first instance, from the converted spy. Hence it is essential that the converted spy be treated with the utmost liberality.

[…] Hence it is only the enlightened ruler and the wise general who will use the highest intelligence of the army for purposes of spying and thereby they achieve great results. Spies are a most important element in war, because on them depends an army’s ability to move.

And then comes the scandal, the reaction of global leaders subjected to espionage, of private companies, etc.

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The Art of War

The Art of War, by Sun Tzu.

The Art of War, by Sun Tzu.

I recently finished reading The Art of War for a second time. The book in itself verses on tactics, strategies and concepts related to war. However, today it is recommended for and applied to several fields, from politics, to business management and sports.

The first time I read it I was fresh from having completed an MBA and soon joined the strategy department of Airbus Military, the company I work for. I then took an interest to it from the strategy point of view. However, this time I wanted to read it framing myself from the teamwork, communication and leadership point of view. I found it again, a very enjoyable and useful read.

The book is attributed to Sun Tzu, a Chinese military general, strategist and philosopher who lived in the ancient China (544-496 BC). The version I read is a Spanish translation (by Alfonso Colodrón) from the English translation by Thomas Cleary. If you’re an avid reader of business literature you’ll probably have found some quotes from the book. The ones I remarked this time from the point of view I approached it (the emphasis and comments between brackets are mine):

The Army on the March

If you are careful of your men, and camp on hard ground, the army will be free from disease of every kind, and this will spell victory.

Peace proposals unaccompanied by a sworn covenant indicate a plot. [think of inter-departament relationships]

If there is disturbance in the camp, the general’s authority is weak. [indecision]

The sight of men whispering together in small knots or speaking in subdued tones points to disaffection amongst the rank and file. [engagement]

Too frequent rewards signify that the enemy is at the end of his resources; too many punishments betray a condition of dire distress. [rewards vs. engagement; purpose; self-realization]

To begin by bluster, but afterwards to take fright at the enemy’s numbers, shows a supreme lack of intelligence.

He who exercises no forethought but makes light of his opponents is sure to be captured by them.

If soldiers are punished before they have grown attached to you, they will not prove submissive; and, unless submissive, then will be practically useless. If, when the soldiers have become attached to you, punishments are not enforced, they will still be useless. [reminded me of Jack Welch and the need to discriminate]

Terrain

Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys; look upon them as your own beloved sons, and they will stand by you even unto death. If, however, you are indulgent, but unable to make your authority felt; kind-hearted, but unable to enforce your commands; and incapable, moreover, of quelling disorder: then your soldiers must be likened to spoilt children; they are useless for any practical purpose.

Take a look at the book. It can be read in no more than one afternoon. Depending from what perspective you take you will draw some conclusions or others. Some passages will not relate much to your current situation, but several others will.

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