Tag Archives: USA

Iowa Aviation Museum

“What made you come here?”

“We saw a sign at the interstate and decided to come.”

“Great, it’s nice to see that advertisement works”…

This was our first exchange with the clerk at the Iowa Aviation Museum. We had just bought our tickets for 7$ and registered our names in a pristine visitors’ list. I guess we were the first visitors of that day, probably of the week, conceivably of the month, who knows if even in the year.

Luca and I were in our way from Des Moines to Omaha. I thought it would take 4 hours but soon discovered that we would arrive much earlier than we wanted. Having already passed the exit for the John Wayne birth place, when I saw the sign for the “Iowa State Aviation Museum” I didn’t think it twice. I turned the wheel and took the exit.

We had to drive another 10 miles on a more than boring road and then 2 more miles to reach the museum at the aerodrome or the Greenfield Municipal airport.

The museum had some unique pieces from the early days of aviation (e.g. the 1st airplane ever to carry the name “Piper”, the J-2… a one derived from it was the plane I flew in Poland). Nevertheless I wanted to commend the museum for 3 other things:

  • Diffusion of passion for aviation: I find it admirable that in such remote places, they do gather some resources, collect some assets and put up a museum for the delight of fans, to spread the passion for aviation and seed the souls of future engineers.
  • Scheme of contributors to the museum: to finance that museum they have in place a scheme in which both companies and individuals contribute to its sustaining. In exchange they get public recognition in the form of a golden plaque at the Hall of Fame of the museum.
  • Hall of Fame: I also admire the tribute paid to pioneers from the region and people who played a key role in aviation in the form of that Hall of Fame.

In that Hall of Fame you learn that an Iowan volunteer became the youngest aviator in US Army Aviation Section in WWI (Clifton P. Oleson); another Iowan built the 1st multi-passenger seaplane, the 1st twin-engine bomber, designed the 1st honeycomb structural supports and was the founder one of the companies behind today’s Lockheed Martin (Glenn L. Martin); another Iowan, this time a woman nurse, unsuccessfully sought a pilot position at Boeing Air Transport, but influenced the president with her idea of placing nurses on-board airplanes to make passengers feel more comfortable with flying (Ellen Church became the first stewardess in history); and another 2 Iowans were the chief engineer and the first pilot to fly the famous Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird (William J. Fox & Louis W. Schalk).

In the hall you also find out that an Iowan lost the first ever race between a car and an airplane (Carl S. Bates) and that a cloth sewn by the wife of a first cousin of the Wright Brothers is worthy enough to make it to the Hall of Fame (especially if that cousin happens to be the great, great, great-grandfather of a fellow from Greenfield…).

Barnstorming is a term I learnt at the museum (well, you go to museums to learn, don’t you?) that refers to the entertainment that first aviators provided in different villages in the 1920s, where they would fly as in a circus to show the airplanes to villagers, perform some stunts and get some cash by carrying affluent citizens in short demonstration flights. This, also contributed to spread the passion for flight.

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PD: I join the legion of admirers of Luca for standing these #avgeek visits not only stoically but even enthusiastically.

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Filed under Aerospace & Defence, Travelling

Is talent really worth it? (Book review)

I am subscribed to The Economist since about 3 years ago. It not only provides with very interesting articles every week and lots of new ideas, but from time to time I am asked to take part in surveys. As a way to show appreciation they normally offer a study, a book, etc…

The latest book that I received from them and read is “Pay check. Are top earners really worth it?”, by David Bolchover.

The book is ferocious critique of CEO’s and finance workers’ pay. The average CEO in the USA earned in 1980 42 times the average blue-collar salary, while by 2000 this multiple increased to 531 times!

The book makes a clear difference between entrepreneurs, true generators of wealth, and the top management of multinational companies. He argues that there are three necessary conditions to award a high pay to the CEO:

  • Enough revenues available.
  • The CEO should have a measurable and substantially positive impact in the company (e.g. like one could defend the impact of a sports star within a team).
  • We would need to demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt that his abilities are extremely rare making him difficult to replace (could Jordan be replaced in Chicago Bulls?).

More often than not, this is not the case.

The favourite excuse being used to award exorbitant salaries is the scarcity of “talent”. The origin of the “talent” ideology seems to be the 1998 article from McKinsey “The War for Talent”.

Some of the extreme cases cited in the book…

  • Lehman Brothers CEO at the time of bankruptcy, Dick Fuld, who in his 15 years as CEO pocketed $466 million ($34M in 2007) before filing the largest bankruptcy in history (with $613 billion in debts), placing him as the worst CEO in American history according to Portfolio magazine.
  • Oil companies BP and Shell which both CEOs missed the objectives in 2008 yet still managed to be handed the undeserved bonus by the compensation committee from each company!

The author states that today, the main enemy of capital is… “talent”, those undeservingly taking the money away from shareholders and calls for shareholder activism to revert this situation and bring the money to whom it belongs (us, the shareholders… either directly or through investment and pension funds…).

I do recommend this book (~125 pgs.).

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Filed under Books, Economy, Investing, Personal development & HR

World War III

Beginning of June I bought at Schiphol airport the book “The Next 100 Years; A Forecast for the 21st Century”, by George Friedman (author of “America’s Secret War”). I receive sometimes at the job reports and articles by Stratfor, the intelligence and forecasting firm that George Friedman founded. This was one of the reasons that raised my attention, the other were the headlines that could be read in the front page “2020: China Fragments”, “2050: Global war”…

Cover of "The Next 100 Years".

Friedman’s book tells us that when thinking about geopolitics we should be aware of:

  • Experience tells us that we should expect the unexpected.
  • We should not be confused by passing chaos and cyclical crisis.
  • Humans and countries are not that free when taking decisions, but they see limited their options by several constrains. He goes looking for such constrains.

If he had written the book in 1900 he would have pinpointed the following three things as defining for the century:

  • Collapse of European Imperial System
  • Quadrupling of World’s population
  • Revolution in transportation & communications.

Now, at the beginning of the XXI century he guesses the three defining issues will be:

  • The rise of American power
  • The end of the population explosion
  • The development of technologies to deal with a declining population.

You may wonder “the rise of American power?”, yes he makes the case that North American power has just started and it’s here to last: technology, economic power, control of the World’s seas (US Navy), military power, access to both Atlantic and Pacific oceans…

As he says, the USA “had the ultimate aim of preventing any major power in Eurasia. The paradox, however, is as follows: the goal of these interventions was never to achieve something –whatever the political rhetoric might have said- but to prevent something. […] Its goal was not to stabilize but to destabilize. […] The USA has no interest in winning a war outright.”

With this in mind, he explores what may happen in the next hundred years: Russia trying to reassert  itself, China fragmenting, Poland, Turkey & Japan as rising powers, some of them starting a global war, space-based power generation, Mexico challenging the US…

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Filed under Books

Scotch whisky

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scotch whisky exports, by number of bottles.

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

Scotch whisky exports, by revenues and bottle price.

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

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Filed under Miscellanea

Largest defence companies

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

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

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

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

Countries by number of large defence companies.

Countries by defence sales.

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

Defence companies by defence revenues and reliance on defence.

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

US Defence companies by defence revenues and reliance on defence.

… and then taking a look at European ones:

European Defence companies by defence revenues and reliance on defence.

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

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

Complete picture with 121 companies.

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Filed under Aerospace & Defence