Monthly Archives: December 2020

Summary of (my) 2020

Time to look back and reflect on how the year which is about to end developed. Brief recap of my 2020. (1)

If I had to pick three personal and positive memories from this 2020 they would be:

1. Skiing together with my daughter Andrea down some pistes (slopes) for the first time (in Vars, Haute-Alpes, Southeastern France). She was 6 years old at the time and had spent the least years’ skiing holidays in the piou piou kids’ garden. This year she obtained her ourson medal (following the French ESF system).

2. Seeing my son David learning to swim without the help of armbands. He turned 4 years in early April, and by mid May we set up the pool. Early on the swimming season he insisted on imitating his sister, who already knew how to swim, until he managed to do it on his own. Since then we enjoyed dozens of days of swimming together.

3. Flying with the family for a weekend excursion to Avignon.

Those were my most memorable moments, but as you can imagine this year 2020 was also a messy and uncertain one for us, to some extent. Indeed, some of the other good things of the year were those that didn’t happen: no one from our family or our most immediate relatives got infected with coronavirus nor had to go through hospitalization; despite of the bad turn taken by international travel, the aerospace industry and the generalized job cuts, we are all still working.

Not everyone was that lucky. In 2020 I lost an aunt and a close former work colleague. Other colleagues and friends lost relatives during the past twelve months, we have known dozens of cases going through illnesses (covid and others) in the past months. My thoughts are also with them today.

On a lower level, the fact of living abroad far from either of our families made that the lock downs and travel restrictions allowed us to only see my siblings or parents-in-law from Christmas to Christmas, or my sister-in-law and parents in summer for a short period of time.

On the contrary, the lock downs made us spend much more time with the kids. Having schools closed from mid March to end May was tough, a real balancing act. But it gave us the opportunity to see first hand the kids’ growth: David starting to pick up English or counting; Andrea drastically improving her reading, writing, maths and drawing.

Like most people we had to cancel many activities (including family visits and a couple of friends had to cancel their weddings). However, early on we switched to not planning much and opted for a quiet and laid back year.

Flying: Other than the above mentioned excursion, I only flew 9 flying hours, including 14 take offs and landings, the least in the last 9 years (we could not fly for months as a consequence of the emergency measures taken by the state and our aeroclub). And only my friend Javier flew for the first time with me at the controls this year.

Running: I completed one single race, the half marathon of Blagnac on March 1st (which already felt awkward as that same day was supposed to take place the half marathon of Paris but that one was cancelled). Since then, the marathon of Madrid was canceled twice, the Ronde des Foies Gras, as well. I didn’t subscribe to any other race. And this year I barely ran above 750km, the least in the last 10 years, far below the average of +1,900km per year from 2011 to 2016. A thing to improve in the 2021.

Blogging: This year in February was the 10th anniversary of the blog, but I didn’t manage to write much; only 7 blog posts in 2020. The blog received just above 26,000 visits in 2020 (the least since 2012) and nearly 430,000 since I started it in 2010.

Travelling: We didn’t travel a lot this year, but still we saw a few new and old places: Embrun, Vars, Vaison-la-Romaine, Lavaur, La Halle de la machine, L’Envol des Pionniers, Cuellar, Chartres, Oradur sur Glane, Rocroi, Rijswick, Kijkduin, Wijchen, Amiens, Tours, Madrid, some of the latest A380 convoy…

Reading: With so much time at home due to lock downs and cancelled plans, I found plenty of time to read and reading I did. In the end I completed 37 books and read above 13,400 pages (more than ever). For the detailed list of books, see the post I wrote about my 2020 reading list with a brief description of each book.

Investing: one of Buffett’s quotes is “opportunities come infrequently. When it rains gold, put out the bucket, not the thimble“. This 2020 was one of those years that presented opportunities and, despite of that, we didn’t invest much in 2020; on the contrary, we saw how having many eggs in the same basket compounds the uncertainty in testing times, as to the jobs’ uncertainty we added the steep dive of our employer’s stock price of which we own shares. As of today, it has recovered half of what it lost, but it was a good reminder.

NGOs support: Since we purchased our house in 2017, we had slowed down the donations to different NGOs that we had been supporting for years. We re started with some of them at the end of this 2020. With the economy’s dire prospect for the coming months many will require support, it will also be a time to spend.

Now it’s time to rest, celebrate with the family and hope for the best in 2021. This year there will be no running the San Silvestre Vallecana in Madrid with tens of thousands of other runners in the evening of this December 31st, but a lonely 10km run just my brother and me in our village. The only planned trips we have for 2021 are another skiing week in Vars and a booked weekend in autumn to celebrate my in-laws anniversary, let’s cross fingers so that we can accomplish those two plans.

Other than that, my wishes for 2021 are simple and basic: that the pandemic gets controlled in a few months, that the flying traffic recovers and the aerospace industry starts to get stabilized, and that the general public and economy can get to their normal lives.

I wish you the best for 2021, enjoy it!

(1) You can see here my 201020112012201320142015201620172018 and 2019 recaps.

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My 2020 reading list

In this post I wanted to share the list of books I read along the year (1) with a small comment for each one and links to some Twitter threads where I shared some passages that caught my attention while reading the books. I have also included a small rating from one to three “+” depending on how much I do recommend its reading.

  1. Le Vicomte de Bragelonne“, tome I (by Alexandre Dumas) (+++): This is the second sequel, or the third book in the series of the Three Musketeers, where D’Artagnan, Athos, Portos and Aramis are portrayed ~35 years after the first adventures. The novel follows the same engaging style and the use of historical context at convenience, this time describing in France events with Louis XIV as king, Colbert as finance minister, or in England the restoration of Charles II. [Twitter thread].
  2. Julio. La biografía” (by Óscar García) (++): Nice biography of Julio Iglesias, written in a light style. It follows a chronological structure going from its beginnings, first songs, life in Madrid, describing his different albums, tours, collaborations, his successes abroad, the struggles with the family life.
  3. Ultralearning” (by Scott H. Young) (++): The book provides some principles and tactics to take on individual, focused learning projects. Some of those can be applied to any learning project and could be seen as common sense (investing time in advance in the what, how…, focus, directness, retrieval/memory check approach, feedback…). The book is though short of examples as it comes back once and again to the same few the author had gathered from his experience and some others.
  4. On the Nature of Things” (by Lucretius) (+++): Written in the first century BC, the book is a great exercise of observation and deduction. The author tries to describe the universe, matter, the forces, death, the soul, etc. [Twitter thread].
  5. Sense and Sensibility” (by Jane Austen) (+): Published in 1811 in this book Austen elaborates on the quest of partners for two sisters: Elinor who has much too sense and little assertiveness and Marianne who has more innocence than sensibility. I struggled with Austen’s use of never ending complicated sentences.
  6. Noticia de un secuestro” (by Gabriel García Márquez) (++): In this book written in 1996, García Márquez describes the kidnapping, life in custody and liberation of several journalists at the beginning of the 90s by the terrorist group FARC. It describes the nuances of the “extraditables“, how the FARC negotiated to secure that Pablo Escobar and others would not be extradited to the USA when surrendering. [Twitter thread].
  7. Business adventures“, (by John Brooks) (++): I bought this book years ago as it was highly recommended both by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. Written in 1966, the book is composed of a collection of stories on product launches, insider trading, income tax, trade balance and devaluations, stockholders meetings, trade secrets, communication in business, etc. Some of them are very interesting and you can learn a lot about those subjects and business in general, but it is not for the faint-hearted reader. [Twitter thread].
  8. Managing uncertainty” (by by M Syrett and M Devine) (++): I had this book at home since years ago as a compliment from The Economist for answering to some survey. It was written in 2012, based on surveys and interviews following the 2008/09 financial crisis. The editing job was poor. Otherwise, I read during the first weeks of lock down following the Covid-19 outbreak in March 2020 in Europe and it provided valuable feedback and examples. Elements discussed: flexibility and responsiveness, anticipation and scenarios, looking for opportunities, strong leadership, sense of direction, motivation, confidence in the organisation, transparency, accountability, governance, speed and informed decisions, engaging staff. [Twitter thread].
  9. La Peste” (by Albert Camus) (+++): This is a classic from 1947 that had to be read during the first weeks of the lock down following the Covid-19 outbreak. The book describes the development of a plague in the city of Oran (Algeria). The parallels to what we could live or learn from Covid-19 were many along the book: from the illness and desperation of the sick, to the confinement, the lack of resources, drastic measures, anguish, the loss of loved ones… [Twitter thread].
  10. A sangre y fuego” (by Manuel Chaves Nogales) (+++): The book was written by the author shortly after leaving Spain in 1937 to be exiled first in Paris. It is a collection of stories of the Spanish Civil War based on real facts. It conveys the horror of the war, the hatred with which both sides acted both in the front and in the rearward, the disorganization of the republican side (where the author was while in Madrid), the fights and disputes between militias from the republican side, the lawlessness… A must read. [Twitter thread].
  11. Glory Lost and Found” (by Seth Kaplan and Jay Shabat) (++): The book was written in 2016 and provides a very detailed review of Delta Airlines’ history from its creation and especially its remarkable turnaround post 9/11, including a year by year (2002-2014) review of the industry. When the Covid-19 crisis is past, the book will deserve a follow up. [Twitter thread].
  12. En el principio fue el número” (by Francisco Javier Mateos Maroto) (++): This is the first book of a collection of 40 short books on mathematics that my mother gifted me with in 2019. My idea is to read about 5-8 of those books per year. This book introduces the origin of numbers, numbering systems in different cultures, notation, numbers’ position, the origin of zero, etc. [Twitter thread].
  13. El infinito. ¿Es un viaje o un destino?” (by F. Rossell i Pujos) (+): The 2nd book of the math collection. Its beginning (discussion of Greeks, Aquinas, Bernouilli…) and its ending (Brunelleschi, Planck) were interesting but half of the book was too technical (Cantor set theories…).
  14. Tragedies” (by Euripides) (+++): The book I read is a compilation of 9 of the 18 tragedies that have survived to our days, the following ones: Alcestis, Medea, Hippolytus, Hecuba, The Trojan Women, Iphigenia in Tauris, Iphigenia in Aulis, Bacchae, Cyclops. A must read together with Aeschylus, Sophocles, the Iliad and the Odyssey. [Twitter thread].
  15. Números irracionales” (by Bartolo Luque and Jorge Calero) (++): Another book from the math collection. This one offers an entertaining foray into the discovery of different irrational numbers (pi, e, 2^1/2…) throughout history and how they were estimated. [Twitter thread].
  16. Todo es número” (by Manuel Alfonseca) (+++): Another book from the math collection. This book takes the reader through a light review of the history of philosophy and science since ancient Greece till today. [Twitter thread].
  17. Pride and Prejudice” (by Jane Austen) (++): In this novel the story centres around the quest of partners for the Bennet sisters. I liked this novel much more than “Sense and Sensibility”. It has very good twists in the plot, it shows how the mistrust between social classes difficults open relationships from the outset, its reading is more fluid and it has a very strong protagonist in Elizabeth. And I loved this line by the end “Now be sincere, did you admire me for my impertinence?” [Twitter thread].
  18. Meditations” (by Marcus Aurelius) (+++): Marcus Aurelius was a Roman emperor in the late II century AD. This book consists of a collection of his thoughts, advice, quotes and reflections on several subjects. He wrote them as a guidance for self-improvement, being part of the Roman Stoicism school. [Twitter thread].
  19. Parmenides” (by Plato) (+): This is one of the dialogues of Plato, though it is a very difficult one to read. Either you are very motivated to attempt it or I would not recommend it. It discusses its theory of ideas, the one which is, the one which is not, the Others. A tough one. [Twitter thread].
  20. Argonautica” (by Apollonius Rhodius) (++): Written in the III century BC, this book tells the story of the trip that Jason and the rest of the heroes on board of the ship Argo make in search of the Golden fleece (which is in the region of Colchis in the East of the Black Sea), how they meet Medea and how they later flee making a detour around Europe. [Twitter thread].
  21. The brothers Karamazov” (by Fyodor Dostoevsky) (++): Lots of passion and difficult characters in this psychological novel from Dostoevsky, especially the father Fyodor, the older brother Dimitri (Mitya) and Grushenka. At times it gets a bit boring, especially the spells around the starets Zosima and the monastery. The last quarter of the book with the dialogues and speculations around the trial is great. [Twitter thread].
  22. The Clouds. Lysistrata. Wealth” (by Aristophanes) (+++): This book contained 3 of the 11 surviving comedies by Aristophanes. The first one is a critique of intellectuals in Athens and a caricature of Socrates. The second shows the bargaining power of abstinence as proved by the stance taken by the Spartan women of the play during the Peloponesian war. The third one portrays poverty as a virtue, a call for a fairer redistribution of wealth and shows the incentives that money creates. I found the comedy of Aristophanes quite direct and rich in double meaning. [Twitter thread].
  23. El archivero de la Lubianka” (by Travis Holland) (+): I received this book as a present many years ago but I forgot from whom. The story is based on a clerk working in the literary archives of the Lubianka. It depicts the fear, the lack of freedom and the arbitrary prosecution in the times of the Soviet Union under Stalin in 1939. [Twitter thread].
  24. Este no es el titulo de este libro” (by Nelo Alberto Maestre Blanco) (++): Another book from the math collection. This book discusses some paradoxes, axioms and fundamentals of mathematics. It touches the work of several mathematicians from the past: Euclid, Leibniz, Boole, Cantor, Frege, Russell, Hilbert, Peano, Gödel, Turing, Shannon.
  25. Los secretos de la defensa de Madrid” (by Manuel Chaves Nogales) (+++): This is another great book from the journalist Chaves Nogales. It describes the details of the defence of the city of Madrid during the first months of the Spanish civil war in 1936 while it was besieged by the rebels and defended by the republicans and other militias. It provides a very positive depiction of the general Miaja (loyal to the Republic) and a rather negative one of Largo Caballero (PSOE), and of actions carried by the unions (CNT and UGT) in the republican side, such as stealing food, weapons and ammunition either from the people of Madrid or the republican army defending Madrid at the front. The book provides a very detailed account of the fights and moves street by street, parks, bridges and around Ciudad Universitaria. [Twitter thread].
  26. The birds. The frogs. The assemblywomen” (by Aristophanes) (+): This book contained 3 of the 11 surviving comedies by Aristophanes. The first one is a comedy about gods. The second one mainly centres around a duel bewteen Euripides and Aeschylus in the Hades. The third one is a sexual and scatological comedy where women rebel and take control of the government. I found these 3 comedies a bit softer than the others I read from Aristophanes. [Twitter thread].
  27. Historia de la Guerra del Peloponeso” (by Thucydides) (+): For this work Thucydides is considered by some the father of scientific history or the first historian, as he applied a rigorous chronological description of the Peloponnesian war providing analysis without the intervention of Greek deities and from a neutral perspective, despite him being an Athenian general during the war. It covers the war between Athens and Peloponnesian League (led by Sparta). Some of the main historical characters appearing along the battles are: Brasidas, Pericles, Demosthenes, Alcibiades (a quite controversial character who changes sides a few times betraying his camp to avoid justice and advance in his career), Agis, Hermocrates… The books shows the importance of the naval power and dominance of the seas, and the ephemeral nature of alliances. [Twitter thread].
  28. Factfulness” (by Hans Rosling) (+++): The late Hans Rosling advocated for decades for a good comprehension of the World through knowing basic data about it and to improve the decision making processes. This book is organized around a series of 10 biases or “instincts” that we need to be aware of when analyzing data (e.g., size, gaps, linear extrapolations…) and provides some rules of thumb or tips to overcome them. [Twitter thread].
  29. The Rooster Bar” (by John Grisham) (++): A fine novel by Grisham, in which the protagonists are Law students dropouts illegally practicing law in order to get out of their student’s debt. It also touches on the difficulties of illegal immigrants in the US. [Twitter thread].
  30. The Rational Optimist” (by Matt Ridley) (++): Written in 2010, this book is a defence of exchanges, free trade, the value of ideas, the gains obtained from specialization, the advances achieved through technology, the importance of institutions, the overall improvement of societies thanks to continuous growth vs regression. It is an ode to the market economy in times when it is attacked from many fronts. [Twitter thread].
  31. The age of innocence” (by Edith Wharton) (++): Written in 1920, the book shows how was family and social life, and the morals of the old New York of 1870s. The change of that society at the turn of the century. At times the prose and language are rather baroque, and lack rhythm, but I want to remark the impressive last chapter with unexpected twists through the last sentence. [Twitter thread].
  32. This side of paradise” (by F. Scott Fitzgerald) (+): Written in 1920, the book portrays the young Amory Blaine forming his personality before and after WWI, throughout his years studying at Princeton, his attitude and relationship with girls, his first loves, the life New York, his failures… A fast paced first novel of the author.[Twitter thread].
  33. The wealth of nations” (by Adam Smith) (+++): First published in 1776, the book is for a reason a masterpiece of economic analysis. It covers in a didactic way and with several historical examples a large variety of economic subjects: the division of labour, competition and free trade vs monopolies, income from wages, land and stock, the relationship of the European powers (mainly England, Spain, Portugal and The Netherlands) with their colonies, public finances. [Twitter thread].
  34. Le Comte de Monte-Cristo“, tome I (by Alexandre Dumas) (+++): I started reading this first part of the story to try to read it at the same time as my brother. It portrays the story of Edmond Dantès and his transformation through injustice inflicted upon him into the Count of Monte-Cristo. In his comeback he looks for the characters of his previous life to reward them or seek vengeance. All in the historical context of the escape from the island of Elba and the hundred days of Napoleon followed by the Bourbons restoration.
  35. Midiendo el cielo y la Tierra” (by Fernando J. Ballesteros) (+++): Another book of the maths collection. This one describes the evolution of estimating and measuring distances both in the Earth (latitudes, longitudes, navigation, the size of it) and in outer space (distances to the Moon, other planets, the Sun, other stars), including the triangulations used, Thales theorem, trigonometry, Kelper’s laws and the tools employed. [Twitter thread].
  36. The Guardians” (by John Grisham) (+++): This fast paced novel is centred on a small law firm, practically pro bono, which operates mainly in South Georgia and North Florida trying to get innocent inmates that have been wrongly convicted. In doing so they confront sheriffs, prosecutors, drug traffickers…
  37. Cambiemos el mundo” (by Greta Thunberg) (-): This is a short book with a collection of the speeches that Thunberg had given up to some point in 2019. It was a thought provoking present from last Christmas. The book in itself is badly edited as there are no references, bibliography or any support to the claims the speaker does, which may be normal in a speech but not so in a book. The editing job was poor. Other than that, in the speeches she did nothing but advocate for degrowth and forecast the doom. Surely solutions will come through technologies, policies and investments that she does not bother to go into.

During this year, with the lock-downs, confinements, etc., there was plenty of time to read and I have been able to read at a good pace thanks to the rigorous approach following these two tips:

  • a blog post from Farnam Street blog “Just Twenty-Five Pages a Day“, which was published well after I had adopted such an approach to reading but captures it very well,
  • the Wikipedia article about the Pomodoro Technique, which enables you to efficiently use the last hours of the day.

Another question that I have got a couple of times is about the source of the list of some of the classics that I read. That one comes from yet another blog post from Farnam Street blog. That post mentioned the Great Books curriculum for the bachelor in arts of Saint John’s College in Annapolis. You can get the list from the Wikipedia or directly from the college website. As I am not reading exclusively those books I advance at a pace of 5 to 8 books out of that curriculum per year, thus it will take me other 20 years to finish the program.

I wish you all very interesting reads in 2021!

(1) You can find here: my 2012 reading list201320142015201620172018 and 2019 ones.

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