Tag Archives: Coursera

Summary of (my) 2014

Brief recap of my 2014. (1)

In the last year recap I mentioned that in 2014 I wanted to give it a try to the processes’ approach at the time of setting goals. Trying to introduce new habits, settle others, etc. I started very focused: waking up earlier, studying Dutch first thing in the morning, arriving at the office earlier, training at lunch time, getting back home earlier, playing with Andrea, spend some family time, read and study at late evening/night. Some of the habits have stayed, some others not, and I have taken new ones along the year… let’s review the year.

The main events of this year:

  • AndreaFFVFRLuca passed the exams to become a lawyer in France, found a job in a law firm and finally sworn before the court as a lawyer.
  • Andrea… many events in her front. From the first flight with me at the controls in February, to her first steps in the summer, to travelling first time to Africa and America…
  • We moved houses, though still living in Toulouse (from the flat in Saint-Cyprien to a house in Sept Deniers).

Avgeek. The stage we had in Paris for Luca’s exams allowed me to visit the Musée de l’Air et de l’Espace (Le Bourget) and to get to know the airfield of Issy-Les-Moulineaux. Our escapades to the Pyrenees made us discover Musée de l’Aéronautique of Luchon. The more recent trip to the USA allowed us to visit the Dayton, where the Wright Brothers originated and the National Museum of the US Air Force, for which I still have to write about, but you can see my brother’s post on the museum. We also had the chance to visit the Francazal air show.

VitrineThe moving to the new house gave me the opportunity to find a well deserved location for the model collection.

Flying. Apart of the mentioned first flight with Andrea on board, in this 2014 I managed to complete some 17 flights totalling almost 15 flight hours, 30 take-offs and landings and including 5 solo flights (one of them a navigation flight).

????????????????????????????????Not only Andrea had her baptism regarding flying with me at the controls in 2014, but Juan, Maicol, my mother, my sister Beatriz and brother Jaime had theirs too! Despite some exercise-related incidents (including a runway excursion, through during a solo flight), I am sure they enjoyed it and the experience made it to their 2014 memories.

Since the progress was good, just before the summer my instructor mentioned the taking of the exam! But first I had to pass the theoretical part, which I had postponed so far. I did a first attempt in November in which I cleared half of it, next attempt in a couple of months. Then, some more flight lessons (not having flown since September), flight hours and start thinking on the practical exam!

FinMarLearning. The balance between family, hobbies and work is always tricky. This year I started strong studying Dutch which I dropped after 3 months, and in the second half of the year I had to put hours to the study of the PPL theoretical part (in French), with partial success.

In between, I completed some other online courses (MOOCs): The Age of Sustainable Development (Columbia), An Introduction to Operations Management (Wharton) and Financial Markets (Yale). In parallel, I completed some other very interesting in-company trainings on Airline Engineering and Maintenance, Management of Conflicts and Time Management.

Reading. This year again I didn’t set any objectives in terms of number of books, but I only prepared a shelf with a selection of about 20 books that I wanted to prioritize. In the end I read the following 10 books (about half of them from the selected shelf):  Hot, Flat, and CrowdedThe Roaring NinetiesEl amor en los tiempos del cóleraThe Early History of the AirplaneSeeking Wisdom: From Darwin to MungerWhat management is, Sycamore Row, The Racketeer, Micro, Crime and Punishment (in Spanish). You can find here a brief review of each of them and references to longer reviews I made about them in the blog.

Family 2.0. Despite of the family life and different changes, I managed to write just a bit over 80 posts. Plus the blog received over 80,000 visits in 2014 (a 60% increase in relation to 2013) and is very close to surpassing the 200,000 since I started it in 2010.

On top of that, Luca went forward with her own blog, check it here, Jaime launched his new blog (with especially interesting post on aerospace topics!) and my mother launched a website to promote her therapy business (Terapias ArcoIris). I wonder whether Andrea will start a blog before speaking or writing! (2)

DSC_0161 - CopyTravelling. This year we visited Paris for a week (first time in Versailles and in the château de Chambord for me), made 3 escapades the Pyrenees (with Luca and Andrea alone, with my family and with friends), visited again the United States (NY and some new places for us: Boston, Gettysburg, Dayton, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia – with over 2,100 miles driven and 8 different hotels in less than 2 weeks!) in a very entertaining trip with lots of learning opportunities and experiences, the Dordogne, spent a half resting half discovery week in Mauritius, flew to the Netherlands (3 times, a week each time), five days in Sicily (Siracusa, Milazzo, Taormina; incredibly beautiful places) and these last days of the year in Madrid.

????????????????????????????????Again, those were the leisure trips; on top of that, the job made me go to Madrid another 20-25 times (?), that made it tiresome and difficult to combine with other things but gave my plenty of opportunities to see my family, friends and to run in the Retiro park…

Sports – Running. This year, due to the young age of Andrea, we did not manage to go skiing. We neither played some golf as we wished we had to, nor gave it a try with soccer. What I did was basically, guess… running.

In 2014 I ran well over 1,900 kilometres, which was a goal I set to myself at half way through the year (when I had completed just over 800). As I wanted to reduce the weekends’ agenda, I competed less and just took part in 9 races (3) (versus 16 in 2013) including: 2 marathons (Rotterdam and New York, both under my previous personal best time!), 2 half marathons (Blagnac and Toulouse, no personal best here though), 3 10k‘s (all of them under 45’, with two consecutive personal bests!) and a couple of trails: Cassoulet and Foies Gras. As you read, in 2014 I achieved personal bests in marathon and 10k thanks to the different training plans I combined (more variety), which was great. I did not so in half marathon, I think in 2015 I’ll try to improve the 3 marks.

IMG_0219Following the sentence “the running shoes, always in the suitcase”, the year 2014 caught me running in: Wijchen (9 times), The Hague, Rijswijk, Sevilla, Rotterdam, Paris (x6), New York (x2), Milazzo (x3), Montauban, Mauritius (x5), Madrid (x16), Dayton, Colomiers, Benasque, Barakaldo, Allentown, Verfeil, Mauvezin… plus the tens of times I trained in Toulouse and Blagnac.

This year, apart from the races, I managed to train plenty of long runs: 11 over 20km, including 6 over 25km and 2 over 30km; and did plenty of series’ sessions (too many to mention). That contributed a lot to the improvement of my times.

Other reasons for joy in 2014 have been:

  • My family: My sister moved to Odense (Denmark) to study a master in International Security & Law  (you can follow her in her blog), and once the classes were completed moved to Vilnius (Lithuania) to make a stage at the NATO Energy Security Centre of Excellence. We had the pleasure to have my mother over for a month in July-August. We enjoyed 2 weeks of holidays with Jaime in the States, apart enjoying several runs with him. My father is ever more engaged with NGOs teaching classes to disfavoured people in Madrid.
  • Some more friends got married: Alessandro, Erik, Simone.
  • And we welcome some newborns from family and friends: Guillermo, Cas, Nils, Amelie…

Now it’s time to rest, celebrate and soon to plan how we want the 2015 to turn out. It will again be a year full of personal and professional changes, with plenty of learning opportunities, kilometres to run, marathons to enjoy, airplanes to fly and flights to catch, museums to see, books to read, trips to make and parties to enjoy.

For now, I will close 2014 celebrating my sister’s birthday, running the San Silvestre Vallecana in Madrid with several friends and enjoying a last dinner with the family.

I wish you the best for 2015, enjoy it!

(1) You can see my 20102011, 2012 and 2013 recaps.

(2) I have to confess that at some point I considered the idea of opening a blog for her to register each of her flights… I dropped the idea, because I was incapable of registering all the desired data of so many flights! [over 20 flights in 2014 alone for her]

(3) That figure excludes the San Silvestre Vallecana that I will run the afternoon after this post is published.

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The Age of Sustainable Development

A few months ago I took a massive open online course (MOOC) on Coursera platform titled “The Age of Sustainable Development” of which I wanted to talk in the blog. The course is taught by Jeffrey Sachs, an American economist and Director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University. 

Jeffrey Sachs’ main fields of work include the challenges of economic development, environmental sustainability, poverty alleviation, debt cancellation, and globalization. Sachs is the Quetelet Professor of Sustainable Development at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs and a Professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia’s School of Public Health, previously he was a professor at Harvard where stayed for 19 years. He is Special Adviser to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon on the Millennium Development Goals, having held the same position under former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

The objective of the course as presented in coursera:

This MOOC provides an introduction to the interdisciplinary field of sustainable development, and draws upon the most recent developments in the social, policy and physical sciences. It describes the complex interactions between the world economy and the Earth’s physical environment, and addresses issues of environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive development. By the end of this course, students will gain a broad overview of the key challenges and potential solutions to achieve development in the 21st century.

Taking this course was a very good experience. It took 14 weeks (rather long for my taste with MOOCs), in which a good variety of topics were presented. It called my attention the abundance of materials reviewed in the course, the many sources and online applications which we had to work with along the course (1), the course-specific text book that had been put in place (between 25-35 pages per week), the videos with lectures by professor Sachs, etc.

The syllabus of the course departed with an introduction to sustainable development, economic development to then tackle poverty and the millennium development goals, where it reviewed the progress on some of them and lack of progress in some others. Finally it presented the sustainable development goals, which the UN shall adopt next year.

As these sustainable development goals give the name to the course, let me list them below as they are proposed by the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN)

  1. End extreme poverty including hunger.
  2. Achieve economic development within planetary boundaries
  3. Ensure effective learning for all children and for youth for their lives and their livelihoods.
  4. Achieve gender equality, social inclusion, and human rights for all.
  5. Achieve health and wellbeing at all ages
  6. Improve agricultural systems and raise rural productivity.
  7. Empower inclusive, productive and resilient cities
  8. Curb human-induced climate change and ensure sustainable energy
  9. Secure ecosystem services and biodiversity and ensure good management of water and other natural resources
  10. Transform governance for sustainable development. The public sector, business and other stakeholders should commit to good governance

I definitely recommend this course, of which a new edition is about to start next week!

Statement of Accomplishment of the course.

Statement of Accomplishment of the course.

(1) To name just a few of the online resources used during the course: World Bank data indicators, Gapminder World data, The Economist’s Big Mac Index, Population Pyramid, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs data, World Health Organisation data, UN data

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Getting married seen as a call option (finance)

I am currently following in Coursera the course on “Financial Markets” given by professor Robert Shiller. When the course finishes I may write about the experience and main takeaways from the course. Today, I only wanted to share an anecdote from last week’s lectures on futures markets and options.

At some point of the lecture the explanation from the professor went on as follows: 

[options] They occur naturally in life. I remember Avinash Dixit was writing about options and he said “when you’re dating someone and you know the person will marry you. You have an option which you can exercise at anytime by agreeing to marry.” Now, one of theorems in option theories is you usually don’t want to exercise a call option early. And so Dixit would say, well, maybe that that’s why a lot of people have trouble getting married. [LAUGH] You know why, they don’t want to exercise their option early

What we’ll see is that options have option value. They give you a choice, and so there’s something there. When you exercise an option, that means when you actually buy the thing (or in the case of a put, sell the thing), then you’re losing the  choice. So you’ve given up something. Of course you also have to exercise eventually if things are going to, to make sense.

[text excerpt from Coursera]

The reason of sharing the anecdote is to point at the humor and the kind of connections that these minds (such as Dixit and Shiller) are able to make. If only for that, I would recommend to always keep searching for such opportunities for continuous learning (be it from this type of courses, reading academic papers, books, interviews, etc.)

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Summary of (my) 2013

Let me share with you a brief recap of my 2013. (1)

I defined my 2011 as a year on the run and my 2012 as a year of change, and yet 2013 brought more running and more change that either 2011 or 2012! To me 2013 will be a family year: as Luca and I got married and we got a baby, Andrea.

At the beginning of 2013 I did not set a list of objectives to be fulfilled along the year as with the wedding preparations and the coming of Andrea I was going to have plenty of occupations. However, that does not mean that it was a quiet 2013.

Getting married.

Getting married.

May 11, 2013. On that day Luca and I celebrated our wedding. That was our highlight of the first half of the year. We celebrated it close to my parents’ place, in the hills close to Madrid, on a great spring evening , surrounded by most of our relatives and friends (many of you, coming not only from all corners in Spain but from Canada, Brazil, The Netherlands, France, Italy, Switzerland…). Apart from being a very emotive day we had lots of fun.

The monday after the wedding we departed for a honeymoon around the US west coast. We took the opportunity to visit the usual suspects of the area (LA, San Francisco, Grand Canyon, Sequoia Park, Yosemite…) and the not so common places: the aircraft cemetery known as The Boneyard and the AF Flight Test Center (this required visiting 2 US Air Force bases: Davids-Monthan and Edwards), the aviation museums of Pima and Seattle, the Lowell observatory, the Boeing 787 / 777 /747 Final Assembly Lines…

Family Irastorza Van Veen.

In February we announced here that we were expecting a baby. On August 11th, Andrea was born in Toulouse (2).

She weighed 3,610 grams at birth and measured 50cm tall. Now, 4 and half months later she is over 7kg and over 63cm. She has been the highlight of the second half of the year.

Family 2.0. All these events made me slow down the blog posts production rate at some times during the year, though not for the lack of ideas or contents! Nevertheless, I managed to write about 90 posts! Plus the blog received over 50,000 visits in 2013 and surpassed the 100,000 since I started it in 2010.

On top of that, we saw how Luca went forward with her own blog, check it here.

Learning. What did I learn this year? The main job here has been to internalize on time the turn to becoming a father. Once that was assumed, I would say that, with the good health Andrea has had so far, it has been rather easy, albeit energy and time-consuming.

I would say that trickiest that I am finding is the balancing of time between family, hobbies and work. And it has been at the other side of the work-life balance, at the work, where another leap forward was required: in terms of new concepts, new position within the team and several challenges encountered. Though, with the great courage and support from Ruth and Loreto, the year has passed way smoother than one could have suspected.

Other than that, this year I did not manage to formally study neither French (booh! to myself) or Dutch (another big booh! to myself), and this is something that I will have to make up for in 2014 (otherwise I risk to be left out in conversations between wife and daughter!).

Online education: after getting started in 2012 with online courses, in 2013 I completed in Coursera platform the following 4 courses: “Energy 101” (Georgia Tech), “Model Thinking” (Uni. of Michigan), “Nutrition and Physical Activity for Health” (Uni. of Pittsburgh) and “Exercise Physiology: Understanding the Athlete Within” (Uni. of Melbourne). On the down side, I did not fully complete other 3 online courses for which I obtained only about 60% of the credits, even though I enjoyed them even more than the previous ones: “Game Theory” (Stanford), “A Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behavior” (Duke) and “Understanding Einstein: The Special Theory of Relativity” (Stanford), in all three cases I missed some deadlines due to being travelling without time and proper connections to complete assignments.

Reading. This year I didn’t set any objectives in terms of books due to the reasons mentioned above. Add to that that my eReader broke at the beginning of the year and I only replaced it in June and only started to use the new eReader in December (!). I have only read 7 books in 2013 (“Thinking Fast and Slow”, “Calico Joe”, “Born to Run”, “Les Cow-boys d’Airbus”, “Personal Memoirs of US Grant”, “Moneyball” and “The Art of War” for a second time). I think I will soon write a post about them.

Sports. After about 16 years, I got to practice again skiing (!), which used to be one of my favourite sports. We went with colleagues to Val Louron, Saint-Lary and Baqueira. I also got to play soccer again after about 3 years without playing… with the misfortune of getting injured (left leg adductor) just weeks prior to a marathon.

Skiing in Val Louron (France).

Running the San Diego marathon.

As you can imagine if you are a frequent reader of the blog, what I practiced often was running. In 2013 I managed to run over 2,000 kilometres, I took part in 16 races including: 3 marathons (Rome, San Diego – while on honeymoon!- and Athens), 2 half marathons (La Latina – Madrid – and Toulouse) and 4 trails of around 20km each. For the last marathon I manage to complete a training plan to the end which made me very proud and helped to beat my 10k and half personal records.

I don’t remember from whom I picked the sentence “the running shoes, always in the suitcase”, but I follow it to the point: The year 2012 caught me running in Toulouse (all kind of corners in the French south west region), Gruissan, Madrid (the day I got married included), Torrelodones, Rome, Santander, Murcia, Santa Monica, San Diego, San Francisco (Bay to Breakers race included, and along the Golden Gate bridge), Sequoia National Park, Mojave desert, Tucson, San Diego, Everett, Oakland, San Lorenzo de la Parrilla (Cuenca), Comillas (Cantabria), Athens, Wijchen… so in a way it was also a year on the run. Many of these times I have been running with friends (Jaime, Serna, Manuel, Juan, Kike, Jon, Nacho, Gon, Juan, Nervi, Pablete…), which made it even better.

Investing & helping others: with the organization of the wedding in sight, I had a cash preference for the use of savings. With the wedding gone, I will re-start looking for investment opportunities in 2014 (hopefully the stock market isn’t so hot then).  In a few weeks I will publish how our investments (made in previous years) have fared in 2013, but they have gone well (as most of the stock markets). On the charities side: this year I directed 1.1% of my net income to different NGOs and non-profits (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 Santander, Murcia, United States (LA, SF, Seattle, Mojave, Flagstaff, Tucson, San Diego…), Comillas, Greece (Athens, Delphi, Meteora, Marathon), The Netherlands (Wijchen, Den Bosch)… take the case of Andrea, who with just 4 months has been 3 times in Spain, 3 times in The Netherlands and Greece (having flown 11 times already)… 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.

My first flight on-board the A400M.

My first flight on-board the A400M.

Flying: again, 2013 has been a difficult year to find slots to fly with the instructor. Due to weather conditions, work, etc., we had to cancelled several sessions. In the end I could only fly over 13 hours. However, on August, 30, I did my first solo flight!. That was another highlight of the year. During the summer time, while my parents and in-laws were visiting to see our newborn, I could take onboard my mother and father-in-law. 

On top of that, on August 29, I got to fly onboard the aircraft I work on at Airbus Military, the A400M! (yet another highlight).

Other reasons for joy in 2013 have been:

  • Family: My brother switched jobs within the same company and will soon depart again for Germany. My sister, after completing her degree in Political Sciences, pursuing a course on Energy Security in Madrid and getting yet another certificate in English, moved to Odense (Denmark) to study a Master in Energy Security (you can follow her in her blog). My mother keeps working on her massage business, and my father is now engaged with 2 or 3 NGOs spending part of is time as a pensioner teaching maths, physics, etc., to disfavoured people in Madrid.
  • Some more friends and relatives got married: Marlies, Pablo, Jose, Unai, Marlies.
  • And apart from Andrea, these newborns will share her promotion: Julia, Aaron, Mencía, Diego, Julia, Maeva

Now it’s time to rest, celebrate and soon to plan how we want the 2014 to turn out. I believe the next year I’m going to give it a try to the processes’ approach at the time of setting goals. I have been repeating to myself for years that each year that passes is getting better than the previous one. If I see at the account above, improving 2013 seems difficult, but who am I to question that 2014 will be, again, the best year of my life!?

I wish you the same: the best for 2014, enjoy it!

Enjoy!

Enjoy!

(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 20102011 and 2012 recaps.

(2) For the avoidance of doubt: despite of being born in France and due to her parents being Dutch and Spanish, Andrea is of Spanish and Dutch nationality, not French. Quoting a work colleague: “here [on the possibility of getting French nationality at birth or not], French law protects our children…” 🙂

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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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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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Hotel Room Sports (Creativity)

At the beginning of the year, as a yearly goal I decided to keep on learning new things. One of the actions I took was signing up for some courses (in Coursera platform).

The courses were great, the way of learning is very encouraging: with videos, small and bigger assignments, online forums, students from all over the world helping each other, aspiring career starters and retired people wanting to learn something new together in a global class.

I followed them for some weeks but finally I was unable to keep up with them and dropped. I felt frustrated for that.

Some weeks ago a friend forwarded some information about some other online course from Stanford University Venture Lab. I decided to follow a couple of them, including “A Crash Course on Creativity” taught by Tina Seelig.

Those of you who know me well might think “a course on creativity, how unlikely of Javier?”. Well, I decided to join it because I thought it could be fun… and some of the assignments are fun!

In this post I wanted to first raise awareness of this kind of free education and, secondly, to share the video I took last weekend in Seville for an assignment. Enjoy:

What was the assignment about?

“Your challenge is to use TWO HOUSEHOLD ITEMS of any type – to come up with a brand new SPORT. Use your creativity to generate something you have never seen before.

 You will be evaluated on your creativity and presentation. Deliver a drawing, photo, or video demonstrating the sport. Feel free to include a short description.”

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Filed under Education, Personal development & HR, Sports, Travelling