Monday, August 29, 2005

Back to real life

Here I am in Seattle, sort of feeling like I've never left, for some reason. Work has been interesting, as expected, and my apartment is a mess. But I'll forget all this, and leave some final discussions about Brazil for some other post, when I'm less tired. For this post I'll just leave this interesting article (blog post):

Has Google Peaked?

It is an interesting article that talks briefly about something that I think will be the subject for next year's tech wars: Apple hitting the PC and scaring Microsoft. It will all come down to Microsoft's major trump card: Office. How will it behave on the new OSX and how it will behave on the new Vista. If MS stops supporting the OSX version of its suite, Apple will have a lot of trouble to conquer the Windows market. Let's wait and see...

Friday, August 26, 2005

Another eternal fight

Just to wander a little bit away from the last topics, here is an article that I found quite intriguing. (I'm trying not to sleep too much tonight, so I'm doing many things to keep me awake and one of this pointed me to the article)

Homeopathy's benefit questioned

It is an old fight, as old as the creation of homeopathy. The concept behind this type of treatment is very odd... Imagine getting something that gives you the same symptoms of what you are feeling and dillute it to a level that the chances that you will injest a molecule of the thing is quite small. Scientifically, why would this work?

I've used homeopathy in the past and I don't know if it really worked. It is always hard to separate what our own antibodies are doing from what the medication is doing. My conclusion: do what makes you happier. The least stress you are going through while you are sick, the quicker your body will react to it and make you feel better. Never use a medication you don't believe, but do believe in medicine! Thousands of years of research must have brought us something good.


There is so many things to talk about that I'll probably won't write much.

Sao Paulo is a great city. A living entity that is always moving, always changing, but not really evolving. It's growing, eating things, but the problems are still there and only get worse. Today, for example, I was listening to the news and they mentioned that there are 120 cars are stolen violently, i.e. using guns or other weapons, EVERY DAY in Sao Paulo! My sister's fiance was robbed of his cellphone, money and briefcase by a guy on a motorcycle the other day. This guy pointed a gun to him (although later he got the impression that the gun was a fake) and asked for everything. As easy as that. When he went to the police to tell what happened, the police officer said that there are about 20 of these A DAY in that region!

So violence is still here. Traffic is still here! Especially on Fridays when people try to get home earlier (and end up just leaving work earlier but probably getting home at the same time as always).

Happy people are still around too! Despite all the chaos in politics as I mentioned before, people are still hopeful of the future. They still think that things can get better and only need time to fix. So they go out, have fun, stay out until late at night and go to work as always on the following day (having a lot of coffee!)

Changing subject a little, my father went to a lecture this morning with an economist and this economist mentioned how worried he is about the world economy. One of the most interesting point he made was the real state bubble going on everywhere in the US (except from the midwest - but the money isn't in the midwest anyway). Houses and apartments are just ridiculously expensive and all the money that is driving this spike in prices is generated by other countries investing in the US, and not by the US that is way deep in deficit.

I'm a little bit more optimistic than this guy (although he is a professional and I'm just a very naive and uneducated guy). He thinks that everything is going to burst in less than an year and we will go down into depression again. I don't quite think that depression is that easy to get. The economy is much more stable right now to go through such a quick depression! But I'll have to wait and see...

I guess that's all I'm going to talk about right now. I was going to discuss some business opportunities I see around here, but I'll leave this for another day.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Getting lost in the chaos of the last week

The last week of my vacation arrived very quickly and now I'm a little lost on what I should do. I'm trying to organize to meet with some friends that I haven't met yet (because they were either traveling, or they don't answer emails and I lost their phone numbers when my PDA died, or because of mutual lazyness). The thing is that things end up happening in spikes of activity. One day nobody can do anything, the other everybody is free, but I can't take a person to dinner at the same time that I go to a choir rehearsal or have to meet somebody that lives and works in the other side of the city (just for the people that don't know Sao Paulo very well, the other side of the city does not mean 30 minutes from here, or 10 if you live in Stillwater, but it can mean anything from 1 to 3 hours away).

So, right now I'm home. My mother is asleep. I went to my father's company for a visit and had lunch in a really great fish place. I felt bad that I had forgotten to take my camera with me! The restaurant was very typical: a large area with simple tables. Around the place you had a small town by the dam surrounded by trees (very unlike Sao Paulo - I was not in Sao Paulo, by the way). The food was simple and delicious.

Then I went shopping with my mother. She had to buy a wedding gift, but she went away empty-handed. Then we drove back home. Tonight I have a work discussion with my father then dinner with some friends at 10 pm.

Tomorrow I'm going out with friends in the morning, early afternoon, mid-afternoon and then trying to drop by the choir to say hi to people. Thursday I'll do some touristy stuff around Sao Paulo with my sister and in the evening I'm tying to meet some friends for a pizza dinner. On Friday I'm going to go to a "churrascaria" with my other sister. Friday evening I think family is coming here for Shabbat dinner and Saturday I'm packing, buying some gifts and some stuff for me and catching the plane in the evening. In other words, it's going to be very busy last days here.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Unique Sao Paulo

First I have to rant a little about Blogger. It has been not very nice to me lately, not allowing me to publish posts, publishing things three times when I press "Publish Post" only once, things like that.

Anyway, that's not what I want to talk about. I'm here to discuss what I've seen on my long ride on the bus back home on Wednesday. First I was hit by the lack of good information about buses around here. There is a website where you can check bus itineraries. You enter two big avenues and it finds buses that connect these two places.

Note that there is no time, no regularity of the bus, just its number. Then you can go to the number and see what the itinerary of the bus is to have an idea how long it takes from one point to the other. And that's all.

With this tool, I found a bus line that connected two streets that I could use to connect where I was to my house. So there I went to the bus stop... I saw at least 15 different bus lines driving by that bus stop, at least 3 times each! So one hour after I got to the bus stop I decided that I should try something different to get home. So I went to another bus stop and asked the driver of a bus that went approximately to the place I wanted to go about how to get there. He promptly said that I should stay in the bus for one more stop and then transfer to another bus in the next stop. I've done it and I was on my way home, arriving safely.

Now for the interesting thing that I've learned on this trip.

Buses are very interesting in Sao Paulo. Some are old and not very confortable. They can get pretty crowded, especially on peak hours. Crowded enough that you have to squeeze your way out or else you miss the stop (that's what I had to do and almost missed my stop). But they show a lot of what life is about. You just have to stop and listen to people talk, and look outside on the places the bus goes through. Here are just small excerpts of these observations (lots of them needed pictures, but taking a digital camera inside a bus is never a good idea):

- A paper ad glued to a post: "Call Miss XYZ: Tarot, and a large list of other related future reading methods. Get your love to love you in 01 days!"
- A discussion between two high schoolers: "blah, blah, blah about boys. So what are you doing about it? Well, I'm going to talk with my grandmother and she always gives me good advice about it..."
- A set of very new buildings all made of glass and a homeless man walking with his cart full of trash and just ignored by everybody else.
- Very poor looking people entering the bus and paying their tickets using a very interesting smart card system (I'll get to this system one day)
- People entering buses to try and sell some snacks, ice cream and drinks and first going to the driver and giving them a free sample so that they can enter and exit the bus for free.
- Very well dressed people leaving and entering the bus at the same time as very poorly dressed people.
- Women walking by and seeing almost all men just turning around to see her back.
- Outdoor ads displaying nearly nude women and men to sell pretty much anything, from alcoholic drinks to lingerie

This is just what I can remember. I know I was actually quite delighted with all I was seeing and hearing. I do miss Sao Paulo, and I know I'll always miss it. Especially because my sister said that being a man in Sao Paulo is great right now, because there is a very interesting scarcity of available men right now.

Anyway, time for me to go to bed so that I can help my mother to prepare things for my party in the evening.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Spammed by blog comments

This is really new! On my last post (that was actually repeated 3 times for some reason) I got one comment by a spammer talking about buying cars. I've heard of this before, but it was new to my blog. The worst thing is that the only way to prevent this from happening is to block all unknown users from commenting (enabling anonymous comments doesn't really help, because they are never anonymous). This is fundamentally a Blogger problem, because they allow people to create any number of random users that can, in turn, start spamming you. It shows once again that Google is great, but they don't invest that much usability analysis in their "side sites" like blogger and orkut.

Anyway, no more ranting. Time to get back to thinking what I'll do this afternoon. I have mainly four options: (1) sleep (I woke up pretty early to go to the consulate to get my visa stuff done), (2) read a book (I still have two books I brought), (3) bake a cake for an event my mother is participating tomorrow, and (4) work on my paper. I'll decide on something eventually. I'm trying to be lazy a little and not do much.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Isolated in Brazil

Here I am, in Brazil again! Life is great! Lots of nice conversations with my family and my sisters fiancee. Cool guy, but I still have to finish my interview with him! :-)

The only problem that I'm seeing here is that my old PDA broke just before I came here and all the phone numbers of my friends were in the PDA. This makes me a little isolated from them, but I'm trying to fix it tomorrow (a day I won't be only sleeping and eating).

I don't have much else to talk about. The shock at the airport waiting to get into the plane to Brazil and in the plane were less than I was used to, to tell you the truth. Usually you meet those loud Brazilians trying to find the best seats and just kick out the people that seem too shy to do anything against them. This time was different, people were much more controlled.

Sure there were a lot of people making gossip about everybody in the airport. My guess is that they feel that the language is keeping them from being heard, that's why you don't hear Americans saying the same types of things. But I still think of it as a little disturbing.

Finally, politics in Brazil right now are pretty chaotic. They are finding a lot of "irregularities" on the way the party that is currently in power did their campaign and are governing. Lots of money going in many different directions. I've even heard somebody discussing on TV today that many people are trying to stay away from hearing and reading the news just not to hear even more problems. And the president (that some people starting thinking was going to quit) just said that he is confused and feel betrayed by the people around him, but that he will work towards getting it all sorted out. Interesting thing is that not too long ago he was against some of the investigation. Very interesting times...

This makes some people turn to me and say that I shouldn't come back to Brazil because things are just too chaotic around here and will never get better. I'm an optimist, though. I believe that this doesn't make Brazil a less interesting place to live. But I'm not moving any time soon. There are just too many things that I have to accomplish before I go for my next move in life.

What some people are worried about is that the government is seen as a model to the population, especially this government that got into power because they tried to represent the "simple people". Now these people have terrible role models in front of them... Who knows what they are going to do with it...

Wednesday, August 10, 2005


I think I've never been this nervous in my whole life about a trip. If you could see my second bedroom/office right now you would know the reason of part of this nervousness. If you could see my to-do list at work you would get another part of this reason. I've abandoned my perfectionism some years ago, but it seems like it never actually went away.

But I was not going to talk about my trip here... I'll discuss about... The new Nike Free technology! I'm not a friend of walking barefoot, but it really seems like all shoe companies right now are aiming towards making you feel like you are walking wearing only socks or something. It is strange, but not at all unexpected. The shoe evolution started with just pieces of cloth (a sock), then moved to a sturdy platform tied to your feet (sandals), then technology evolved on the sturdy platform side, increasing and decreasing its flexibility and the tying part, also increasing an decreasing flexibility and how much it protected the top part of your feet and calves. Shoes in this whole evolution were synonymous to "protection."

Then we entered an era of "shoes are supposed to offer you more than just protection" and then we got to the Nike Air type things, where shoes offered support, and spring efect to decrease impact on the floor and use this impact energy that is mostly wasted on our bone structure to give you force back to move faster ahead. Thousands of variations were proposed, looking more or less like springs on your foot.

But the world wasn't happy. The era of flip-flops was not disappearing, it was gaining strength. With the improvement in materials, it started to be possible to get back to the sock principle and just add a little bit more grip to it. And that's where we are right now. A sock that is more padded. Allows you to walk on glass, but still feel like you are actually touching the ground.

I'm an engineer, so I can say that I miss the "Nike Air" wave. It just makes more sense in an energy use standpoint. Not that it's gone, but it just became harder to find those shoes as they are currently deemed unfashionable.

Anyway, good that I was able to just talk about useless things for a while. I need to free my mind from other things.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Getting ready

The title says it all, so I don't have to say anything in the body of the post. That's why I'll change topics completely and write about frivolous things like:

Tim Berners-Lee interview for BBC: Sir Berners-Lee is a celebrity in the world, because I guess he created the World Wide Web. In this interesting article he mentions how blogging and wikis have transformed the web into something closer to what he thought it was supposed to be. Interesting that he doesn't talk at any point about the "Semantic Web," another of his inventions, one that is still to see the actual light of the day. I could right now go through a series of articles about why ontologies are gaining less and less interest in the actual knowledge representation community, but I'll spare you from that, except from maybe giving you the original spark to all this anti-ontology movement: Sirky's post.

I'll just go through a quick discussion why I think the whole movement is correct in some aspects, but falls short in many others.

First let's say that I like ontologies. I think they are useful if used carefully. They are able to present a consistent and clean universe of ideas and allow the manipulation of these ideas in a safe way. But what is the problem with them? Locality! Ontologies work well when they are global, or at least work globally. However, knowledge is local - a person is a specialist on a certain field and defines this field in relation to itself and not anything else.

I could go into a very elaborate example right now, but I'll skip that for the sake of not boring 99% of all my readers. Just try to think of something you are expert on. Let's say, music. Now try to compare classical music to popular music. Try to define common things and how they interrelate. Then after you are done, show this to a classical music expert and/or a popular music expert. Do you know what you are going to get? Well, most probably either people saying that your model is missing important parts, or that it is actually incorrect. For example (grr, I said I wasn't going to go through an example), some people would put "tonality" as a song concept. However, tonality in classical music is a much broader concept (because it changes a lot throughout the piece) than on popular music. Actually, tonality is not a very useful concept in popular music, as most songs are on very similar tones, to make them easier to sing comfortably. Then even inside popular music this changes.

Of course you can get into the discussion of what is classical and popular music... This is when I change topic!

Onto... the Blue Angels... They were here in Seattle last weekend for the great Sea Fair. They close the bridges and let them fly around in circles around the city, passing very close to some buildings. They play around and make some people very excited.

I can say I understand the excitement. I was an airplane-junkie in the past. I had many books about airplanes and knew a whole lot about the difference between many models (at least what my inability to memorize things allowed me to remember). I wanted to be an airplane pilot and even got into Aeronautics Engineering in Brazil. However, very soon I started realizing that that's not really that exciting. With the very powerful jet engines we have right now and very good control algorithms that are added to the modern airplanes, flying an airplane is not that hard any more. Making very complicated shapes in the air with your airplane is not at all that hard, considering that the control algorithms on board of the plane do most of the work for you. The only thing you have to deal with is the Gs of force that you have to go through on each maneuver. In other words, aircraft shows became boring to me. As boring as fireworks (ok, maybe a little less boring than fireworks). So I just decided not to watch it... However, I had to watch some of it on my way to the gym on Sunday.

Finally, I'm having a lot of fun with the toys that I have bought lately. They are all mine, you know, until somebody decides to buy them back from me. At least I ran away from spending $500 more on a camera for a friend today. Not that I really didn't want to buy it, it is just that I don't have that much time to go after it and make sure that I'll have space in my suitcase. So... Maybe next time!

Alright, time to have dinner and get back to packing here. I have to make sure I won't forget anything important.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

The twilight zone is here

There are times in my life where things around me start to shift towards the odd. This usually happens when the stress levels are higher than normal, and my sleeping patterns get all confused. At times like this, only a poem can help:

Deep in the dark

The sun does not come in
Although it illuminates all
The stars don't shine
But they see it all
The hole in the ground reigns
The darkness overwhelms

Doubts and misunderstandings
Thoughts and words
The stars and the sun are there
They rise and fall and hide
As the hole in the ground reigns
The sorrow embraces

All around the world seems lost
Lost in the confusion of light
Impressed by the goal
The goal to move ahead
Down the hole that reigns in the ground
The silence leaves

And then
There is love
Feelings that takes us
Leaving us, embracing us, overwhelming us
The hole does not exist any more
The world stopped