Dubai Gran Fondo recap

March 30, 2015

So something a bit different – a post on my thoughts of my first UCI cycling event – the Dubai Gran Fondo – about 120 km around the streets of Dubai.
My Strava for the event. Average of about 40.7 km/h once the flag went down.
I’ve had a bit of a look through the premiertiming site as well as the photos and videos that were taken and thought I would share what I found.
Strategy A people (the faster ones) headed off in or near the front of the main group
Strategy B people (the rest of us) stayed near the back of the first group. I remember looking around when heading towards the 611 for the first time doing 50+ for 2km and getting some knowing glances that I could sum up as “yep, let’s try and hang off the back of this group”.
While there were some attacks at the front, by the time they filtered through to the back, it was a fairly steady pace with little concertina action. Going up towards JLT after Meadows/Springs the group would have been close to 180-200 riders. Photos at this time show a big bunch with a long tail and starting to drop some riders.
Coming back through JLT the second time and the group is smaller and with a longer single line at the front. Strategy B riders are still at the tail end of the group. There was a significant slowing down with corners that required hard work to catch up afterwards but the group was able to stay together at these times.
The race changed with the stack on the exit from Discovery Gardens into Al Furjan on the tight right hander. I was lucky to sneak through on the inside but others on the team got caught behind. By the timing mat at the U-turn in Al Furjan soon afterwards, I was 31 seconds down on Paul Cheetham who was through first, Graham was 6 seconds ahead of me, Andy was 3 seconds behind me, Nichola James and Lena were 10 seconds and 25 people behind me, and Lee and Phivo were another 3 seconds behind them. After the stack, I had 10 minutes of a high HR zone for me (160+) doing 45+ km/h average to get back on to the back of the main pack. Andy joined soon after although he was “spent” and had been to “a place he had never been before”.
The video near JLT was 9 km after the timing mat point and shows Andy and I on the back of main group and only 10 seconds behind the leaders. Goes to show how much the group spreads out during these narrow sections. Nichola and James were with a small group of 8 at this stage 200 metres or so behind. Marnie’s photos later going through Meadows/Springs shows their group was still the same distance behind and the next group not far behind them.
Going through Meadows/Springs for the second time was the easiest part of the ride. Back of the main group, HR in a comfortable zone, and the pace about 37-40 which allowed Nichola, James and their group of 8 to join up on the back of the main bunch. The old guy in blue was actually 10 seconds behind Nichola at the timing mat point so shows what a strong rider he was.
Going through the tight Sports City section after Hessa Street and the pace and HR shot up again and the large group of 140 split into a front group of about 90 and a second group of about 50. Once we came back out onto Hessa Street and Umm Suqeim and Al Qudra Road, the second group was small enough and tight enough to sit behind very comfortably and the front group was long gone.
Our team all managed to escape the carnage of the crash coming along Al Qudra road after the 611. I then came further forward in the group while Graham and Nichola were much nearer the front. James went around the outside near the far roundabout and Graham took off after the roundabout for his usual turn up the generator hill. It was great knowing the route and contours to be able to time any runs. The group was tight and there were a couple of times when I could jump a few positions when some space opened up ahead. Never could get towards Nichola to help her out but I could tell that Natasha had been left behind a while back. The timing mats at the end were quite narrow so took the foot off the gas at the end and lost some places to make sure that I had gone through correctly and upright!
The first group had 60 riders go through within 3 or 4 seconds of the first finisher. In comparison, the bunch of the second group had 30 go through within 3 or 4 seconds and I thought that was pretty tight! Probably because the first
There were 10 people in the large first group that would have been still together just before Al Farjan and who went through the timing mats but did not finish – that’s a 5% DNF rate for the second half of the race.
Key learnings:
On flat wide roads with little wind, it’s easy to stay on the back of the bunch. Drafting well behind the packed bunch felt OK with little wind resistance and sufficient time to get out of the way if there was any problems with the pack. There may have been less drafting with being right at the back of the main bunch.
The bunch tended to speed up in the narrow and tighter sections of the track. At least if felt like that. In these areas, the group will string out so it makes sense to be nearer the front of the group before you enter these areas to reduce the risk of getting dropped.
Keep out of trouble and stay upright is the best policy for me at least!

Gran Fondo


Heart or Head in Decision Making

April 21, 2014

Last night, I went to a talk by Professor Liz Phelps, hosted by NYU Abu Dhabi. The title of her talk was Heart or Head? How Brain Science Alters Our Understanding of Emotions and Decisions.

She commenced her talk on the dualist debate about decision-making. Heart decisions are supposed to be fast, risk-taking, impulsive, hot, and now-focused. Head decisions are considered to be slow, cognitive, reflective, logical, and focus on later rewards. She focused her talk on intertemporal choice – looking at how much people would delay taking an instant reward for a greater reward later. This has implications for societal issues such as obesity, poor savings, problem gambling, etc.

The main thesis of her talk was that this dual system (heart vs head) does not stand up to science on brain imaging and autonomic responses. What research has found is that emotional arousal comes from future reward; emotion drives rational choices. It is becoming more known that emotion has a modulatory role in cognition, memory and perception. She focused on the amygdala and the striatum; the striatum in particular codes subjective value and responds to money, food, cocaine, co-operation and beauty.

There are two components to risky decisions; loss aversion and risk sensitivity. People tend to weigh losses more than the potential gains. The amygdala and autonomic responses are correlated with loss aversion but no relationship was found with risk sensitivity. More interestingly, when the trials turned to auctions (which have a tendency for overbidding), responses are linked with potential losses rather than gains. It is actually the fear of losing that drives overbidding rather than the joy of winning.

Ways to limit a loss aversion response include beta blocker drugs and cognitive therapy. Once again no effect was found on risk sensitivity. Side effects include finding that the drugs actually limit memory. Also of note was that the drugs were less effective in high BMI people. Cognitive therapy was helpful if people thought of a portfolio of decisions rather than just one decision.

In summary, Phelps finds no evidence of dual systems in the brain. Emotion and cognition work together in decision-making. There are multiple neural pathways dependent on the context and no link to the limbic system was found.

Richard Florida – The Role of Great Cities

January 19, 2013

Once again, the Abu Dhabi campus of New York University has convened an excellent presentation and I was one of the fortunate few who was able to attend, bringing a couple of friends from Dubai with me. Richard Florida is an urban theorist that I have followed since he published The Rise of the Creative Class when I studying for my Masters. A gifted orator; he was able to hold the attention of the audience for more than an hour without notes or powerpoint slides before following up with answering questions.

His talk was on the role of cities in powering economic development. The world has crossed a threshold and now more than half the global population live in cities. Soon it will be three-quarters. Urbanisation will be rapid with fewer resources than current cities. He posed and then repeated that the grand challenge of our time is to work out how we can tackle this next wave of urbanization and build the next wave of great cities.

Economic growth is based on 1) technology 2) knowledge as the accumulation of human capital and 3) urbanization. Florida made a point about Thomas Friedman’s thesis of the world being flat. While the world may be flat for simple business processes and manufacturing that could occur anywhere, knowledge development requires people to cluster together and this occurs best in cities. The world has actually become spikier with the people living in cities anywhere in the world more alike than ever. However, the people outside cities are very different.

Cities derive their economic power as the speed up the pace of life. The needs of cities have a faster metabolism than other places. Mega regions that combine cities have increasing importance. It is not just Mumbai but the region between Mumbai and Bangalore. The 40 largest ones in the world only have 18% of the world’s population but generate two-thirds of the economic output and 90% of the world’s innovations. In this instance, Dubai and Abu Dhabi (and the other emirates up to RAK) form such a megalopolis.

Florida also discussed how Michael Porter’s and the approaches of other classical economists around the theory of the firm might be fine to drive efficiencies and create cheaper goods, but they are not suitable for creating new work where technological innovation is required. This needs cities to effectively function. The industrial revolution created wealth through physical assets and where location was important. Policy in this period tended towards investment attraction where transparency, favourable tax arrangements and good infrastructure were important. It is about helping firms rather than cities. Cities need a good people climate to attract and retain talent and the main talent cluster is universities. But great cities also need energy as the creative class can pick where they want to live. They want economic and civic and social opportunities; a place which Florida termed a mating market! Not all clusters or areas of technological development function effectively. Cities need a buzz – an energy which comes from these opportunities.

Florida spoke of his three T’s of technology, talent and tolerance (the latter is an openness and diversity with arts/bohemian lifestyles that generate the spark within cities). He added a fourth that I had not heard of before which is quality of place (note not quality of life). Universities are a hub for that and quality of place is about generating an idea capital. Quality of place is about what is there (natural factors and built environment), who is there (those artists and bohemians again that provide the spark) and what is going on (which creates the energy).

Florida then talked about how great cities have a hierarchy of needs. At the bottom is basic opportunity through the labour market and then basic services of infrastructure and safety. Town planners are very good at succeeding in developing these factors. But beyond these basics are valuing openness and diversity (his third T of tolerance) and then at the apex, an aesthetic character of place (his fourth unnamed T). He quoted Jane Jacobs many times – such as new ideas require old buildings so you have to look for the authentic.

In responding the questions, Florida mentioned that Abu Dhabi and Dubai are wonderful living experiments in city building. They have the ability to leverage off each other by being complementary. If Abu Dhabi and Dubai wish to attract and retain talent then they need to change the mobility of the workforce so that people don’t just live in the city for 4 or 6 or 7 years but will gain permanence and emotional attachment to the city.

Since the presentation, I have been thinking about the approach of Dubai and Abu Dhabi towards this topic. They are indeed complementary with differences in business approach. Abu Dhabi has large amounts of public resources through oil wealth that can be invested while Dubai is more reliant on private sector investments to grow its economy. At this stage, Dubai has more of the qualities associated with Florida’ depiction of cities as somewhere the creative class wants to live. Dubai is home to many younger people with an active nightclub, artistic and sporting scene. Corporate headquarters of many companies have become established in Dubai’s Free Zones, attracting talented people from around the world to come to Dubai. It has strong business links with India, Pakistan and Iran. Abu Dhabi is developing its infrastructure but it is yet to become a place with artist/bohemian lifestyles or with an aesthetic quality of place. This may well come with developments on Saadiyat Island for example with the Louvre and Guggenheim but the key will be whether these translate into attracting the cultural capital of emerging artists.

The importance of the education sector cannot be underestimated. Apart from providing the local human capital, its quality and capacity is a major element in the shopping list of items that need to be met too attract and retain knowledge workers in the creative class.

Helping Children Love Reading

September 18, 2012

One of the big issues that we have in Dubai’s private schools is parent engagement in their children’s education.  Too many parents feel that it is the school’s responsibility to educate their children and that the parents can hand over that responsibility in full to the schools.  Yet many research studies have identified the link between improved early childhood development through reading and play with improved performance in academic and social outcomes later in life.  Therefore, it is essential that parents take the time to read to their children and foster a love of learning at an early age.

And so this article from the Guardian that identfies that reading aloud to children is the single most important activity for creating motivated readers.  The author highlights that parents need to model reading for pleasure so that their children can imitate that behaviour.  Even more importantly, he points out that reading to your children should be done in a theatrical manner, building suspense, being emotive and expressive.  Only in this way, will children see that reading is pleasurable and fun and that they will want to learn how to read for themselves! 

Luxury in Dubai

January 12, 2010

An article in the Gulf News today looks at the preference of many in the Middle East, particularly Dubai, for high-end luxury items.  An international survey found that the response by people that received the highest numbers from people in Dubai was for “luxury is a lifestyle”.  Other countries had a greater preference for a response that classified luxury as “something over and above what you need”.

This penchant for things luxurious is said to be one of the hallmarks of Dubai living, which boasts mega-shopping malls with many high-end brand name stores.  Dubai shoppers are more likely to buy impulsively and less likely to research items before buying an item that has the best value. The virtue of delayed gratification has taken a backseat to the instant elixir of a full shopping bag.

I feel really good about being one of the exceptions to this preponderance of free-wheeling luxury shoppers with more money than sense.  I must admit to never having a great desire for luxury brands and fail to see the need to identify myself with particular brands.  A marketer’s nightmare in other words!  For me, the term “luxury is a lifestyle” makes no sense, perhaps because I try not to live that lifestyle, or perhaps (and this requires some meditation on tonight) that I am living that lifestyle in Dubai and I am not even aware of it!

Harnessing Advanced Communications in an Era of Convergence

October 29, 2009

Today I went to a lecture at Michigan State University for their inaugural Distinguished Lecture Series for the 2009/10 academic year.  The lecture was by Dr. Johannes Bauer, Professor of Telecommunication, Information Studies and Media at the Quello Center for Telecommunication Management and Law, Michigan State University.  The title of his talk was Harnessing Advanced Communications in an Era of Convergence.

I was particularly interested in this topic as I assisted in the production of a Convergence Review, a report tabled in Parliament in 2000, during my first position in the National Office for the Information Economy (RIP).

One of Dr Bauer’s research interests is international comparison research.  Different generations of mobile technologies have had different leaders – the first gen was led by the US, second gen was Europe, and third gen was Asia.  It is uncertain who will lead the charge for the next gen of mobile technology.

Historically, government monopolies had run telecommunications.  But since the 1980’s, countries have been looking to remove state ownership and encourage more market forces and the efficiencies and innovation that come from liberalization.  But there are weaknesses with this approach and we are now at a crossroads.  There is a growing sense that the models used in the past do not scale well into the future.  There is now a search for a new balance between the roles of government and of markets/business.  This will involve experimentation with new and innovative approaches, often at a local level with community involvement.

East Asia and Europe have been able to surpass the number of voice access paths of the US after commencing well behind – it’s a success story for them, and not necessarily a disaster for the US.

China now has 55 access paths per 100 inhabitants and India only about 15 – even though back in 1990, both had a similar negligible number of voice access paths.  In 1990, you would have thought that India would have been more successful due to its western style economy.  Yet China’s growth, despite it being state-owned, raises the question whether the forces of government can be used in western countries to improve technology deployment?

He displayed a nice graph from the World Bank (their Information and Communication for Development report 2009) showing that broadband connections provides higher returns to economy than the Internet, then mobile, then fixed lines.  The benefits are even higher in developing economies than developed economies as there are more efficiencies to be gained.  There are social benefits of broadband penetration as well like education, health care, e-government, environmental benefits, public safety and emergency services, community engagement and social networking.

There is a now different paradigm of thinking about the use ICT for economic development.  It’s not just technology centric that sees ICT as critical for economic development based on modernization theory, but one (ICT4D) that is more about the importance of complementary factors like digital literacy, social capital, access to financing – a human-centric and systemic view.

As communities move to adopt even more advanced applications and services, there is a demand for higher speed transmission (including over mobiles) and for this to be more symmetrical (eg for videoconferencing) – and also the need for high quality (eg low latency) such as for video gaming.

There are major challenges in the creation of sustainable business models where organizations try to gain revenue sufficiency, particularly as many business models have high start-up costs.  Another challenge is the need to minimize risks to society like information security and privacy as well as overcoming digital divides.  Because of the Internet’s open infrastructure, we will need to restructure it in order to deal with the threats of malware.

Dr Bauer described the environment as akin to an ICT ecosystem that has three possible areas of state intervention.  These are focused on horizontal regulation (unbundling, access, interoperability), vertical regulation (network neutrality, openness, structural separation, etc) and public policies (tax credits, subsidies, public investment, industrial policy).  Different countries have adopted a mix of approaches:

  • US – favour a laissez faire approach with minimal vertical and horizontal regulation
  • EU – favours a synergistic approach of comprehensive horizontal regulation and  measured vertical regulation
  • Asia – a more interventionist approach with comprehensive and proactive horizontal regulation and measured and proactive vertical regulation

Key points include that any regulatory model needs to be tied to specific national and local conditions.  There is no best policy mix; each has its unique advantages and disadvantages.  But most importantly, the policy choices need to be consistent (not internally conflicting) but with sufficient institutional diversity since no single approach can solve all investment issues. Finally, infrastructure investment needs to be complemented with other measures.

He rightly points out that this regulatory environment is a complex system and we don’t fully understand all the implications of the regulations that are implemented.  Therefore, this makes it critical to monitor and evaluate the policy implementations and to adjust or terminate policies quite quickly.  For example, if a regulator determines to unbundle the network, then there are later issues as to who will invest in new infrastructure resulting in unintended consequences.

The Knowledge Futures Blog Turns 3

August 22, 2009

Well a lot has happened in those three years.  Back then, I would never have thought that I would now be living in Dubai and that this blog now has 170 posts.  So to both of my readers out there, Happy Birthday to my blog!  We are now out of the terrible 2’s and into the thriving 3’s.