Saturday, December 24, 2011

Cloning Plastic

About a month ago I received an email receipt for a PayPal purchase, in this case an ATM withdrawal. Only problem? I didn't make the withdrawal.

I immediately called and reported unauthorized use of my card, PayPal cancelled said card, and I was issued a provisional reimbursement while a chargeback case was opened. I filled out the online form asking where I had lost my card, etc, and I explained that my card must have been cloned as it was in my possession at the time of the withdrawal.

PayPal wrote this back to me:

We're sorry, but after careful consideration, we're unable to honor your
claim for $___ USD.

Our review of your PayPal debit card claim shows that the merchant properly
authorized this transaction for $___ USD on $___ and this transaction
appears to be valid. You have significant history of making withdrawals at
this ATM. In addition, your PIN number was successfully entered to
complete this charge. As your PIN number is a security code that should
only be known by you, this appears to be a valid charge.

If you have additional information to support your claim, please contact us.

Well that sucked. 'Careful consideration' took at most an hour. I did intend to follow up, as I have the transaction number and I believe that the withdrawal was made at the same ATM that I do indeed, or did indeed, use with frequency. The culprit must have been filmed making the withdrawal. The problem is that I've been crazy busy ever since I opened my store and I don't like to close the store during business hours if I can avoid it, so basically I never followed up except to fill out a stupid online survey re: my chargeback experience, which only led to a request to fill out another online survey, which was more than I was willing to do.

Occam's Razor suggests that PayPal did the right thing. I do use that ATM with frequency, whoever made the withdrawal must have had my PIN, etcetera. But from my point of view it didn't wrap up so neatly. A friend who had stayed with us claimed that his card had been cloned at the very same ATM a couple years earlier, something I must confess I didn't take very seriously at the time. About a week later my wife told me there was a story on the news about a ring of card-cloners in a different bank. And when I googled 'credit card cloned' one of the first results I got showed how the scam works, using, no less, a Brazilian ATM for demonstration. Different bank, but same country, same scam. I don't go into that bank anymore to make withdrawals because the machines are visible from the street, and it is possible that someone could have spied me entering my PIN. Or not - apparently from within the bank PIN numbers can be captured as well.

Anyhow, I've been busy and didn't end up posting about this, kinda like how I don't post about much at all anymore, but yesterday the exact same thing happened to a guest at our house. Same PayPal debit card. Different situation - he thinks his info got stolen when he bought a coffee with the card. Also different result - in his case, someone went on a shopping spree in São Paulo and charged a lot more than they did on my card.

So what's funny about this? Actually, it's not funny at all, because PayPal gave the same response to this guy. Well, whoever had the card also has your PIN, and since you're the only one who knows the PIN it must have been you! Our guest has been trying to explain that there are hundreds of miles between where he and the card were, and where the purchases were made. So far they don't want to reimburse him either.

The thing that is really amazing about this is that it took them a maximum of five hours to clone his card and start spending his money.

Brazilian banks know all about this kind of shit. Brazilian cards have additional layers of encryption, which can vary from using access letters in addition to your PIN, or entering a 3-digit code from a card you carry around with the card. Some ATMs even have a palm scanner to verify your identity. Most cards issued here have an embedded microchip to encrypt your data and make cloning... more difficult.

So what now? Maybe PayPal will read this post and ask me to fill out an online survey.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Curitiba, Part II

I had wanted to write a follow-up to my previous post, but I'm so slammed with work that it's just not going to happen- except briefly.

To sum up the rest of the trip, I thought Curitiba was awesome. It was a nifty blend of elements from back home, things I saw in Europe, and at times I even felt I was wandering around the UMass campus as I did when I was a teenager. I also flashed back to my backpacking days with my time in the hostel and also wandering around the city. The Oscar Niemeyer museum is awesome. Lots of parks and green areas that are clean and don't smell like other people's feces. I think it would be a more pleasant place for me to live than Salvador. However, the women are much cuter here in Bahia, in my humble opinion.

Here's something I wrote while still at the hostel:

This hostel is strange, and I'll tell you why.

I managed to escape the dorm, thank goodness, and got myself a 'simple room,' which I figured would be a closet with a bed where I at least wouldn't have to deal with snoring and lights on in the middle of the night. I bought a pair of earplugs yesterday on a hunch and it was the best investment I ever made. I could hear Drunk Dude snoring even with the plugs in, but at least it didn't keep me up. However, Upper Bunk Guy woke me up every time he turned over, making the steel bunk bed rock like a tree in a typhoon.

I made sure I was up before check-out and requested a simple room, which is what I had wanted in the first place when I checked in. Luckily I got one. When I opened the door however, I figured there must have been a mistake. There were three beds in the room, and no lockers for my bags, so I figured I really didn't want a simple room after all if I had to share it with two strangers and no way to lock up my stuff.

My confusion arose from the fact that at this hostel the dorm bed and the simple room are the same price. Doesn't that seem odd? I thought so. When I saw the three beds I figured that explained it - you pay the same because it's still kind of a dormitory. But no - they told me that I would have the room, with all three beds, all to myself. Now that's very odd. Wouldn't it make sense to charge just a wee bit more for a private room? I know I'd pay it. Not only that, but my room overlooks the little park in the front of the building, which is nice. A bit of road noise, but I've still got the earplugs.

So I looked at a globe and Curitiba is just south of the Tropic of Capricorn, which means I have just sneaked out of the tropics. It is indeed almost at the same latitude as Brisbane, and Miami is in a pretty similar location in the Northern hemisphere. And let me tell you - I am not in Salvador anymore. Still definitely Brazil, but soooo different.

Finally, I just discovered the finished video of the graffiti event I went down there for. I appear toward the end, and even got time-lapsed for a little bit, which I hadn't realized.


Ironlak Barbecue Burners Brasil 2011 - Curitiba. from NumeroF on Vimeo.

Now I need to get back to work.

Saturday, December 10, 2011


I am in the city of Curitba, which is part of the southern end of Brazil. I haven't been this far south since I was in Australia some 15 or more years ago. Looking at the map, it appears that I am at about the latitude of the city of Brisbane, Australia, where I spent a month waiting for some ribs to knit back together.

This is actually an apt analogy- not because of the ribs, but rather because of Brisbane. Brisbane is the home of Ironlak, a brand of spray paint that has gone global over the past couple years and recently arrived in Brazil. I sell it in my shop, and I was invited to come down for an event they held here yesterday.

The invitation came a couple months ago, and up until a few days ago I wasn't even sure I was going to go at all. But it came through- I got a free trip and a room to myself paid for by the company. I was supposed to return home today, but I had asked a favor that they let me stay the weekend and go home on Monday, seeing as how I have never been to this end of Brazil and I wanted to see a bit of the city. So now I find myself in a hostel, checked into a dorm, having left my cozy little euro-style room in the hotel. Haven't stayed in a hostel in quite some time.

The event was very interesting. A van picked us up and drove us from the city center to the middle of nowhere in the suburbs of Curitiba, to a warehouse where the event was held. We picked up a bunch of local graffiti artists en route, who were all very friendly and welcoming. The first thing we saw was a Gaucho style barbecue going on - a side of beef surrounded by a fire. The warehouse itself was quite bizarre - filled with all sorts of strange things including a formula 1 race car made entirely of wood (two actually), a climbing wall, and a large number of bicycles hooked up to generators. A large steel structure, recently painted, dominated the center of the space. Of more interest to us were the walls, which were all free game.

The reason for the warehouse soon became clear - it turns out that Curitiba is nicknamed Crueltiba due to the frequent rains, and we were treated to plenty of that. The weather is much more temperate than in Salvador, and I'm thankful that I had the foresight to pack a fleece sweatshirt, which I have worn almost continuously since I arrived here. I didn't much like the idea of a dozen or more graffiterios painting in an enclosed space, seeing as I hadn't packed my respirator, but I got over it. I also didn't have the foresight to pack any painting clothes, which I am now regretting.

There were four of us shop owners flown in for the event. They quickly formed a little clique of their own, or rather three of them did, I didn't really click with the clique although I liked them well enough. None of them seemed inclined to paint anything, and I figured I wouldn't paint either, but at the encouragement of the other writers I finally decided to jump in. It was hard to resist - there were hundreds and hundreds of cans of paint made available to us to paint the space. We could have painted five or six warehouses with all that paint. I've never had the opportunity to just grab as much paint as I wanted and go nuts (although I could, any day of the week, considering I run a store of my own- although that would probably not be a wise business decision). As a result my left index finger, the spraying one, is quite sore today. I could barely move it yesterday.

As the event wound down and people started packing up, they really started packing up. Everyone had a backpack, or two, and suddenly these packs were getting filled up with cans. Everybody took as much as they could, and there was still a huge mountain of cans when all was said and done. I myself have a box of 12 cans that I need to use up before I go home. Apparently there is another event tomorrow, I plan to attend and use up as much as I can.

Enough words. And I have other things to do. Have a look at some pictures.

The churrasco gaucho. 'Churrasco' being 'barbecue', and 'Gaucho' being a term for folks in Southern Brazil and Argentina, sometimes used to refer to South American cowboys.

The wooden car. They take their formula 1 very seriously here in Brazil.

The bank of power-generating bicycles, which can drive a projector, and a dvd, and some other stuff. The owner of the space told me a single bike can generate about 100 watts. These can all be folded up and towed around, it is set up on a trailer.

The paint! Ah, I think I've died and gone to heaven.

The artists at work. This was the best wall.

Two Aussies representing Ironlak. Nice guys, as most Australians are. They arrived, painted their pieces, had some food, and split. They are now in Argentina.

A view of the same wall, completed.

An excellent multi-layered stencil

My wall, in collaboration with Japem, a local graffiteiro and all around nice guy. I am a graffiti hack!

If I though I was in heaven, imagine these kids. I was torn between thinking how much Lucas would have loved to have been there, and also how I would have not wanted him there with all the nasty chemicals in the air. The masks they are wearing do not provide adequate protection.

The van to take us back was very late, so some of us went out and bombed an empty lot. This was one of my contributions.

Saturday, November 26, 2011


I went for a run today.

A nice run. I was thinking it may have been, in fact, the best run of my life- and quite possibly the longest since I was sixteen, which was... a while ago.

I'd been building up to this run for some time - I tried to pull it off a week or so ago, but I twisted my ankle and had to abort the mission, with horrible visions of prolonged physical therapy and abandoned mid-life running careers dancing in my head. Luckily, I really hadn't twisted it that badly and after a couple mellow runs this week I decided I could handle something more serious today. I didn't set out to break any personal records, but I ended up doing just that.

So what was the big deal about this run? Well, first of all, it's kind of remarkable that I've been running at all, and I should know better than to even write about it at this point as I could stop again next week for another ten years or so. But, in fits and starts over the last couple years, I have been running with a teeny bit more regularity and it feels really good. And the big deal about today? I ran for a full forty minutes.

I was very busy patting myself on the back about this, much like when I ran 35 minutes a couple months ago, until I plotted my course in some Google Maps application thingie and discovered that I'd only run four miles. That took some of the wind out of my sails. But I run for time, not distance, so who cares if I'm running fairly slowly? I'm forty-two and mostly sedentary for crying out loud. More importantly it's a milestone, a benchmark, working up to bigger and better things, like 10 kilometers, which I believe is the minimum distance for any type of race. I'm only a couple miles off that goal, which puts it in striking distance.

I never even considered running a race until a few months ago, when I read In the Long Run by Jim Axelrod. Honestly, I wouldn't have read this book if Jim wasn't married to my cousin, but he is, which is a good thing because it's an enjoyable book and it's given me a goal for my exercise. Not necessarily to run a marathon, which was his goal in the book (and one he achieves) but at least to run a 10k before I turn 50. That should be doable. And then who knows? A half marathon? Perhaps a bit ambitious for this couch potato.

The great thing about my run today was that it was mostly along the ocean, which is something I tend to forget is just a stone's throw away from where I live. Unfortunately, I did something I hate to do to enjoy this nice ocean run- I drove my car. I hate the idea of burning fossil fuels in order to get my exercise, especially if the exercise involves moving myself from one place to another. It was a great point of pride with me when I lived in New England and could cross-country ski right out my back door and vanish into the wilderness.

Of course, I could run to the ocean from my house, which was exactly what I was doing when I twisted my ankle the other day. The problem is, since my runs are relatively short, it would take most of the run just to get to the good part. The other problem is that there is no pleasant and safe route between here and there; the best one I've come up with has lots of traffic and nasty bombed-out sections of sidewalk. Not to mention the feces.

I hate to say it but one of the predominant smells on these runs has been of human shit. In most of the places I run. Then again, I am subjected to the smell of other people's leavings pretty much on a daily basis, and it seems to have gotten worse lately. A large homeless population and virtually no public access to toilets- what do you expect? There is another route I can run that takes me to the ocean much more quickly, with a paved footpath separated from the traffic by a tall cement barrier, and a beautiful view of the water. Sounds great, right? Only problem - a pile of poop every couple of feet. Some of these are fresh and stinky, but I think even worse are the dessicated ones, which turn to dust, and blow around, and... you get the idea. It also runs along the top of a nasty little favela, populated with sketchy looking types who wanted to talk to the gringo. I ran that way once, and never again.

This time I decided to skip the hassle, and the stench, and the bombed out sidewalks, and drove my car down to Barra, which is a much fancier neighborhood than my own. From there I ran along the coast with throngs of others and if there was dung nearby I couldn't smell it for the sea breeze. I ran through Ondina, another fancy bairro, and up to the beginning of Rio Vermelho, right near where I used to train Capoeira. Twenty minutes. At my stately pace of 10 minutes/mile, I figured I could have gotten there from my house in about 40 minutes, which wasn't much longer than it took me in my car a couple times. From there I doubled back, intending to run only 10 more minutes and walk the rest of the way. But at about the 28 minute mark, I changed my mind. I felt fine, my ankle wasn't bothering me, why not try for that forty-minute-run I had been shooting for previously? So I did. I ran all the way back to the lighthouse in Barra- 41.5 minutes. I was a happy man with a runner's high- it was awesome.

My life has actually changed quite a bit in the last two months, and I've been meaning to write about it but just haven't been able to carve out the time. I feel much more like a normal person these days, which is a good thing. More details at a later date.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Big Wall, Finished

It's done.


Well, as done as it's going to get anyways.

I can't even remember quite how long I've been working on it, but I noticed today that it's already starting to fade in places so I think it's best I just wind it up or I'll keep futzing with it for another couple months, and you know what? I'd rather paint something else for a while. If I ever get bored I can go back and paint it again some time- he he!

The thing is I would keep futzing with it if I didn't force myself to stop - it's far from perfect and never will be, so why torture myself? The reality is I stopped because it's become something of an embarrassment that I'm still working on it. It's one thing to have a painting or something at home you never quite get around to finishing, but when it's seen by hundreds of people every day then... wrap it up.

And here it is my friends:

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Telephone Hell - Again

I'm tired.

So tired.

Some years back I wrote a furious post about the nightmare I was having trying to get telephone and internet service hooked up at my new office. Unfortunately, history is repeating itself- I've been in a waiting, calling, and threatening game for three weeks now trying to get internet in my new office/store so I can actually do some work there. Hookup was supposed to be scheduled (no, it was scheduled) for today but the company (GVT) fucked it up again.

I'm not going to get into the details. I'm too worn out by the whole thing and I've already done two rants on the phone today with the phone company.

Just waiting for this to be over with so I can get on with my life.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Time Change, part III

Wow, three posts in three days! Amazing!

Only because I'm an idiot.

I got to thinking and in addition to the extra hour of daylight I will be getting, I will indeed be getting the three hour jump on deadlines that I thought I'd get originally. That is, once the time change happens in the northern hemisphere. For now I'll have only two hours. Except for my clients in California, in which case I get a five hour lead, or my client in Colorado, I'll have a four hour lead- increasing to six and five hours respectively after the 6th of November!

If I had any clients in Greenland I would have no lead time at all.

Isn't that all just fascinating? I think I actually got it right this time.

All work and no play makes Mark a dull boy

Speaking of which, I went back to my big wall today for the first time in over a month. See if you can figure out what I painted.

Time Change, part II

He writes again, and so soon!

He writes a correction. I got my addition mixed up with my subtraction, and it turns out it will soon be three hours later here than in New England, not three hours earlier. Blast! So much for my extra three hours to meet deadlines.

There was another thing I wanted to mention on the subject, which is that much, or most, of the country changes their clocks every year, but Bahia had been choosing not to. This meant that television programming (a big deal here) was pushed up an hour, and also some banking transactions were pushed up as well. Apparently they decided to make the change more to get the state in line with the rest of the country, more than in the interests of maximizing daylight.

And speaking of daylight, we will now get an extra hour, which will be great! I've gotten pretty used to having it get dark at about 6:00 all year round, but an extra hour of sunlight will be most welcome.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Time Change

Hello there.

It's been a while- no apologies, the blog stumbles but it does not fall. There are many things I could write about, my whirlwind, stress-filled trip to the States, my brand-new semi-opened store, phone company incompetence and tomfoolery, etc.

But I won't write about any of those, I'm going to write a quick note about the time change. The Brazilian, southern-hemisphere, in-the-tropics time change. It's happening tonight, and I didn't even know about it. That wouldn't be anything special, if I still lived in New England, where I was prone to forget that kind of thing, but we haven't had a time change here in Bahia for eight years. I remember them, vaguely, from my first couple years here (my I've lived here for some time now). Mostly I remember them because when the time is changed here and also in New England, the time difference jumps from one to three hours- going from a minor consideration to suddenly even though my son's just getting home from school my mom is now going to bed.

The biggest advantage for me, doing lots of work for clients in the northern hemisphere? Three extra hours to meet a deadline.

I just looked at our local paper's website to read up a bit on the topic, and found out something rather amusing. Like so many things here in Bahia, the period of the time change will be dictated by... you guessed it- a party. Admittedly, it is the biggest street party in the world and a huge source of revenue for the city and presumably the state as well. I guess they don't want to confuse the revelers by changing the clocks in the middle of Carnaval, because they'll all be too drunk to figure it out... on the other hand, I'd think they'd all be too distracted to care very much.

Mark out. Here's hoping my next post doesn't take this long to get published. I really do have my very own store now, and I'd like to share it with you. Another time.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Papai I'm Sorry...

Yesterday Lucas wrote me this note after I got mad at him:

It was all I could do to keep myself in stern parent mode, and prevent myself from smiling. Allow me to translate:

Papai I'm sorry please I want to go back.

The thing that's so funny about it for me is that even though he only spelled one word correctly, it's pretty close using the Portuguese pronunciation of the letters. He's got this idea that sentences need to start with as well as end with a period, and I've been trying to dissuade him of this misconception, but he says that's what the teacher told him so I'm not sure why I waste my breath on the subject.

In case you're curious, yesterday was Brazilian independence day, and I got mad because Lucas was misbehaving on the trampoline, so I dragged him away from the parade and told him we wouldn't go back. We eventually did go back, but the parade was over by then.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Father's Day, Brazil

Today is Father's Day in Brazil. A big day for some, an absolutely non-event in my family as I was growing up, although I did start calling my dad on the U.S. version a few years back, to his eternal amazement.

All I really wanted for Father's Day was to go out and work on my big wall, and so that's what I did. The weather cooperated and I made painstakingly slow progress across the top of the wall, completing (I think) the part that requires a ladder on top of my car.

I did get a present from my wife - a... what do you call it? Men's beauty kit? Perfume package a-la-Man? It was a box with a bottle of perfume, a scented soap, scented shaving cream, and a little tool kit with a multi-tip screwdriver, a teeny-tiny tape measure, and a bunch of zip ties. Thanks Evani!

The only problem is I'm really not a perfume guy. This runs in the family, like not celebrating Father's day, or watching sports on TV, or any number of other things. My brother told me that he wore deodorant at my wedding for the first and presumably only time in his life. I think it's not just a family thing, but a regional cultural thing as well- a town I lived in made the News of the Weird because of a decision to section off those who wore cologne at Town Meeting so as not to offend the non-wearers. When I attempted to razz some fellow Western Massachusettsers about this, two of them vigorously defended this decision!

Whatever. Brazil, perhaps because it is less enclosed and stuffy due to its more agreeable climate, abounds in artificial scents of all kinds. Unscented products are pretty much unheard of here, at least in Bahia. When I used to take my clothes to the laundromat, I had to specifically request that they not put fabric softener (cheirinho, or little smell as it is called) in my clothing. Now I've gotten used to it and pretty much ignore it. My wife loves perfume and smells and all that, and I've tried to indulge her. I bought myself a bottle of perfume but I used it so little that it has passed the expiration date. Which is why she got me another bottle. And implored me to start using it.

Sigh. I'm sorry, but this present is really for her, not for me. I really could care less if I smell nice, as long as I don't smell badly. I don't want to use perfume every day. I'll put it on to go out somewhere, but we so rarely go out that I basically never use it at all. And that suits me just fine.

However, I'm sure I'll use the little tool kit. And that has no expiration date.

Monday, August 1, 2011

"Ladder Jacks"

"I cut this board three times and it's still too short."

...which is apropos to nothing, except that I was trying to think of a clever way to say my ladder is too short and that was the only thing I came up with. How about this:

"Hey Kuza, we'll put the ladder on your car to reach the top of the wall!"

That was a joke made by a fellow graffiteiro at an event I attended in Serrinha. I laughed it off, and then this weekend I found myself doing just that.

I used to paint houses during the summers when I was in college. I have found certain things that I learned then to be useful as I paint murals now. My first painter boss was a dipshit who went out of his way to break as many rules as possible- including underpaying his employees. At one really big house, he told the crew foreman to put a ladder up on a picnic table to reach the peak, as the 30 foot ladders we had wouldn't reach. The foreman refused, and dipshit had to spend a lot of money on a 40 foot rental.

When I found myself painting a wall that was taller than my ladder, my first inclination was to only paint as high as the ladder would go, which makes sense. But then, the project got more involved, I decided that the background had to be painted, and suddenly I had to paint those last few feet of wall at the top.

That's when I came up with my 'ladder jacks' solution.

This is a total mis-nomer, as ladder jacks are actually these things you put on a pair of ladders in order to make scaffolding out of them. I think I call this my ladder jack solution because of another insane boss that I had, who wanted us to power wash the paint off of a house rather than scrape it as most sane people do. On top of that, he wanted us to do it from a scaffolding made from ladder jacks. The power washer he rented was so powerful that you needed to brace yourself to keep from getting knocked down by the recoil caused by turning it on, so we refused to use it on the ladder jacks.

So what's your point? you ask, with reason. Well, I figure I'm equating one foolish solution with another. Even though I did think this one out pretty thoroughly and in theory it should work. And in fact, it did work, just fine. So far.

I figured I could put my ladder on top of my car, but not on top of the car itself, which would crush it like a soda can. I could put it on my ladder jacks- I mean, roof racks, providing I had a board adequately secured to them on which to place the ladder. Enter the indispensable c-clamp, times four.

Here it is:

My little ladder works great to get me to the top of the car, and the big ladder works great to get me to the top of the wall.

Ain't I just a genius?

I figured I've carried much heavier payloads on those racks than just my body weight plus the ladder, so as long as I remember to keep the parking brake on I should be good.

So far so good:

Previously the highest point I could reach was the top edge of the red arrow, but now I can get all the way to the top of the wall.

It's slow going, but I'm getting there. And I think it will ultimately make a world of difference in the quality of the mural.

Finally, I've decided to say the hell with it and paint the whole damn wall, top to bottom. No more preserving the stupid political propaganda at the bottom, I'm gonna paint over that as well. They may well paint over me once again, but I'm going whole hog.

One of these years I might actually finish the thing.

And now I need to go scrape the drips of paint off my car.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Never Cry Wolf

Yesterday I had reason to ask Lucas if he remembered the story about the boy who cried wolf. After an enthusiastic request for me to tell the story once more, he proved that he knows it by heart by reciting the whole thing for me. So he knows the story. But has he learned the lesson?

We had our 'cry wolf' moment yesterday because Lucas had a Capoeira event at his school. It is one of two events that he will attend this year, and I remembered that the event was happening at 1:30 in the afternoon. Lucas informed me on Thursday, and again on Friday, that he was supposed to be there at 10:00 in the morning.

I didn't believe him.

Lucas has gotten in the habit of 'making up stories' as I like to say, usually in order to get or do something he wants. This is why he is so familiar with the story of the boy who cried wolf. One of the ways that I have tried to convince him not to make stuff up is by telling him that we will just stop believing anything he says. Since he had been so extremely enthusiastic about the Capoeira event, we figured he just wanted to get there super early and start enjoying it hours before it was to actually start.

I am not a morning person. Never have been. 'Morning' is mostly just an abstract concept for me, as I am usually up until the wee hours working on the computer and I am almost never out of bed before 10. I hope this will change sometime soon, but for now, that's how it is and how it has been for years. So I was fast asleep at 9:30 when Lucas showed up with the paper listing the starting time of the event, which was, you guessed it- 10 o'clock. We didn't make it to the event quite on time, but we did get there before his class did their part, thank goodness. I would have felt terrible if I'd shown up there at 1:30 and it was long over.

I sure hope my 'I told you so' moment has some impact, but maybe missing the thing completely would have served that purpose more effectively.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Big Wall

I wasn't going to write about this until it was finished, but it's taking forever... that, and my friend Jon took some great pictures of me working on it yesterday.

This is by far my most ambitious wall, and therefore my most ambitious painting, and probably my most ambitious artwork, ever. It wasn't supposed to be as involved as it has become, that's why I'm painting the background now, instead of at first, like any sane person would do. I had tagged this wall for later painting several times, and the stoopid political/propaganda sign painters kept painting over it. So I decided to paint over them (vertically). I may also paint over them (coat-of-paintwise) if the ambition continues to creep.

Note the police traffic stop (blitz) in the background. They were completely disinterested in me, which is why Salvador is a graffiteiro's paradise. At least for this kind of work.

The painting is taking forever because I'm only working on it on the weekends, and only if:

a. I don't have any other work that needs to get done
b. It's not raining
c. I'm not with Lucas

Plus it is clearly not a one-session wall. More like a ten session wall at this point. But I've enjoyed the chance to reflect upon what I've been working on, and the composition has built over time. I take pictures, print them out, draw on the printouts, and go back to the wall. I realized the thing was not going to jump off the background if I didn't just paint the dern thing, which is what I am doing now. I'll do the top part my next session- only problem, my ladder doesn't reach that high! But I have a solution in mind.

The location is really fantastic - poking up in the middle of the above photo are the Elevador Lacerda and the Basílica de Nossa Senhora da Conceição da Praia, two of the most famous landmarks in Salvador. Unfortunately, it's pretty run down, and there are some nasty streets nearby - lots of crackheads, glue-sniffers, prostitutes, and alcoholics in the neighborhood. On the weekends they are often the only folks around. Generally they are enthusiastic about my work, which is nice. The best thing about street art is that it's for everybody.

Generally when I'm done I like to pick up some garbage in the area, do my civic duty to clean up some. Didn't happen yesterday, because as it was getting dark a very sketchy dude, either a crackhead or mentally ill, perhaps both but certainly homeless and not in a good way, started pacing around my car- looking at me and mumbling and causing every mental alarm I have to go off loudly. I got off the ladder and picked up a stout stick I was using as an extension for my paint roller, and kept it near me as I packed up the rest of my stuff and split. It was unfortunate, because I wanted to spend another 15/20 minutes getting the wall to a place that I'm happier to leave it at for the next week or two, and that didn't happen.

Thursday, July 14, 2011


Tonight Lucas asked me to fix up an old berimbau for him, and since I had all the various pieces lying around the house I obliged him. For those of you who don't know, a berimbau is a one-stringed instrument of African origin that is played in Capoeira rodas around the world.

As I was working on it, Lucas started singing one of the songs his capoeira group sings at school. Since he trains a different style than I used to, I often don't recognize the songs. This one was a new one. It was about different characters from Brazilian folklore doing different capoeira moves. One line in particular caught my ear:

A mula sem cabeça deu a cabeçada...

I thought that was pretty funny. Those of you who speak Portuguese will probably get the joke. For those of you who don't, let me explain.

A mula sem cabeça is literally a 'headless mule.' In Brazilian folklore, these monsters happen when a woman does something naughty with a priest, and then is cursed, transforming into a mule spouting flames from its neck, where its head is supposed to be.

In Portuguese, you can create a word for getting hit by something just by adding the suffix 'ada' to it. For instance, if I elbow you I'm giving you a cotovelada (since cotovelo is elbow) and if I whack you with my flip-flop I'm giving you a chinelada (because a flip-flop is a chinelo). In the popular comic strip Monica she is known to give her friends/rivals coelhadas, which are whacks with her stuffed blue bunny (coelho).

So what is a cabeçada? It's a head butt. Cabeça (head) + ada.


A mula sem cabeça

by definition

cannot give

a cabeçada

because it doesn't




I told Lucas I'd ask his capoeira teacher about this silly song - it's also possible Lucas misremembered the words.

Then I asked him what Saci Pererê did. Lucas told me a rasteria, which is a leg sweep. I thought that would be a pretty good trick, because Saci has only one leg. But I guess it's possible, particularly if you are a magical creature.

Saturday, July 9, 2011


Today would have been my Dad's 82nd birthday, except that he left us this past year.

I've been thinking about him a lot, and missing him - it has now been a full year since I last spoke with him. Lately I've been reading a book he recommended to me, 'Seven Days in the Art World,' enjoying it thoroughly, and thinking of him even more as a result.

Miss you Dad, wish I could pick up the phone and call you.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Jungle in the City

Well, well. It's been a while since my last post.


Since I last wrote anything, I added a year onto my age and... other things... can't think of any of them right now... just as well. I'm not here to play catch-up.

So it's been just over a year since I bought myself a bicycle, and about two years since Lucas got his, and I'm pleased to say that we are finally starting to take nice rides together. In fact, we went for a nice long one yesterday, about 10 kilometers all told. In fact, that's what this post is about.

Please observe the map below:

This, in case you couldn't tell, was taken from Google Maps, but I hope they won't mind that I borrowed their image seeing as how they also host this blog and my email and half the other things I do online. I'm not just a freeloader, I pay them for listing ads for me too, so there.

Anyhow, this is a map of the biggest park in the city- the Parque Metropolitano de Pituaçu, and the big lake in the middle was made by damming up one end if I'm not mistaken. I hate to say this but I'd never been there before a few months ago, when I delivered some paint to a project located deep within the park. It blew my mind, as it was as if I'd driven hours out of the city when in fact the city was only a couple kilometers away. I thought I actually wrote about it on this blog, but I couldn't find the post. Currently the city's only big soccer stadium is located at the top of the image, although they are busy building another one for the World Cup.

When I got home after my first visit to the park I ran to my computer, as I am wont to do, and brought up the map that you observed above. And I observed something very interesting on this map- a squiggly line that traces the border of the big old lake, labeled 'ciclovia.' That, boys and girls, means 'bike path.' I decided that day that I would ride this bike path, and Lucas would ride by my side.

Salvador has a number of bike paths of varying length and quality- Lucas learned to ride on one of them, and we've been visiting a number of them over the past couple months. It's been fun. Unfortunately we have to drive to get to any of them, but insane traffic being what it is here in the city, that's a reality I just have to deal with. The fact that I don't have a bike rack makes the whole process somewhat involved, but I hope to remedy that someday as well.

We finally got out on the Pituaçu bike path this week- in fact, we went twice. We went out for a shortish ride on Saturday, and I discovered that the path is 15 kilometers long, or just over 9 miles for those of you who don't speak metric. It was awesome. As soon as you get away from the 'park' area, you are suddenly in the jungle with the reservoir to one side. The trail itself got pretty rough at times, but we both have knobby tires on our bikes so we could handle it. It was, in fact, the most challenging terrain that Lucas has yet experienced. He did great, although he did fall a couple times and skin his knees, and a few tears were shed. We didn't see much wildlife, but that's to be expected. That first ride we went in 2 1/2 kilometers, and back out for a total of five K.

What we didn't have time for that first day were the swan boats. You can rent a boat in increments of 15 minutes and ride around the 'park' area of the park, and of course Lucas wanted to do so, but we got there too late and they were just closing up shop. I promised we would go back, and since Lucas is on vacation this week, I wanted to take advantage and get back for a longer and better ride. So we returned on Wednesday, in spite of some dubious weather that had blown in. The rain was intermittent and not the pounding, torrential, tropical rain I have gotten used to, which is why I decided to go for it.

On this second trip, we got there earlier, and I promised we would ride on the boats first so we wouldn't miss them. Unfortunately, they were all beached, maybe because of the rain, so it didn't happen. Once again, I promised we'd go back another time to ride them. Boats out of the way, we started on the bike ride. I figured since we started on the right side of the reservoir the first time, this time we'd start on the left side. We were only just getting started when we met a man coming out, and he asked us what where we were going. I told him we planned to ride the bike path, and he warned us that 'some kids' were robbing people on the path, and he didn't think it was a good idea.

At this point I started to get annoyed. For years I've had to listen to this kind of advice, and I'm sick of it. It really bothers me that I live in a place where I can't even go for a bike ride in a city park, or a walk in the woods, without fear of being mugged. I decided to take my camera and my expensive sunglasses and hide them in the bushes and take a chance. I was determined to get in my bike ride. Unfortunately, or not, the guy succeeded in freaking Lucas out completely and he didn't want to continue. I expressed my aforementioned frustrations in a loud and colorful manner. I told Lucas, who had been asking previously why I always talk about the U.S., that we wouldn't have to worry about riding our bikes there, and blah de blah. You get the idea. I reclaimed my hidden valuables and we rode back out- even so, we did a couple kilometers in and back.

As we were riding out I stopped to talk to one of the workers at the park, and asked him if in fact there were muggings going on. He said yes, there were, and it was safer on the weekends when there is more traffic and more of a police presence. We saw the police presence on our first trip, a motorcycle cop riding through with siren blaring. It seems to me that if you really want to deter muggers, you would send out bike cops, who don't announce their approach from a half-mile off. Then again, maybe the cops would just as soon not confront armed youth in the jungle.

On the plus side, the park worker told us that riding in from the other side was much safer, and that we should be fine if we went in about 5K or so. So that's what we did. Once again, I opted to stash my camera and glasses, and we rode in to the 3K marker. At about 2.5K I heard a lot of banging and wondered what was going on. Suddenly, rearing out of the trees, we came upon a huge construction site just off the path. Three multi-story condos were going up in what appeared to be very rapid fashion. It was completely bizarre after the silence of the woods, and I felt a little bit like something out of one of those films where Babylon encroaches on the primordial forest. We had a look and then we turned back, in spite of the fact that Lucas was doing great and wanted to keep going. We got rained on, but we had rain coats. We saw some micos (little monkeys) in the trees. When we got back to my camera, I took this picture:

All told Lucas rode about 10 kilometers and this time he didn't fall down once. He only complained once that his feet hurt. I think, given enough time for a couple breaks along the way, on our next trip he could probably make it all the way around. We'll do it on the weekend and I won't bring my fancy sunglasses next time.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

May 2, Day of Rodents

Yesterday as we were arriving at Lucas' school, we heard girls shrieking in the entryway. Not an uncommon occurrence, but there was a particular urgency to these shrieks. As we came in the door, we discovered why. There was a large rat loose in the large room just inside the door, and two of the school's employees were trying to catch and squish it with trash cans. I told Lucas to run and we escaped the scene; I think the rat did too- probably darting back into the storm drain it came out of.

Rats are all too common here in Salvador. Here in the center of the city many of the storm drains are covered with wood or whatever else to prevent rats from coming up and running around. So I'm not too worried about the school and don't blame it for a lack of sanitary conditions. I don't think that's the issue. The school is almost 300 years old, fer cryin' out loud.

So I figured that was the end of that, but then the theme got continued when Lucas got home. No rats in the house, no rats in the backpack. Well, kinda rats in the backpack. Rats in the homework. Lucas gets homework every day now, which seems a bit crazy to me, seeing as he's only six. Every other parent in the city thinks it's about time and he should be getting much more.

Mostly his homework consists of reading some simple sentences and then illustrating them. The sentences have been getting a tad more difficult as they go along, and it's been neat watching as Lucas' reading skills improve. But I must say his homework yesterday was a bit surprising for a six year old. Here's the finished product:

I love the hair. All the women Lucas draws have hair like that now, he even drew a female dragon yesterday that had the same crazy spirals.

So in case it's not clear what's going on in the pictures, and you don't happen to read Portuguese, let me translate:

Paloma sees a rat in the living room. The rat jumps on the sofa.

Paloma gets a hammer to kill the rat.

The rat jumps on Paloma's foot and runs into the woods.

I guess if I had been a different person, someone without a somewhat twisted, pseudo-punk-rocker bent to his personality, who used to like black comedies and still has a warped sense of humor, I might have been shocked and alarmed by this. Twenty years ago I would have found it incredibly amusing. I guess I'm getting older, and hey, having kids changes everything, but I must confess I found it somewhat unsuitable for a six year old.

What do you think?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


Easter, and Holy Week, are a big deal here in Brazil- I celebrated them by locking myself up in the house and ignoring all invitations for Good Friday meals and the like. On Saturday I let myself out and painted something, and on Sunday I went and got Lucas at his aunt's house.

Lucas had been counting the days on the calendar until he would get his big, chocolate Easter egg which are the big thing for kids here in Brazil. They are usually big enough to contain a toy, and this year he got a Cars egg with a little Lightning McQueen car inside. He devoured half the egg and got covered in melted chocolate as a result, so I pulled the car over to wash his hands. The spot where I stopped was at one of these automobile graveyards that build up around the Police waystations they build along major roads- for some reason they bring the smashed up cars there and leave them. I had my camera so I took some pictures:

The vast majority of the wrecks were head-on collisions. I know this road well and I've seen dozens of people do crazy high-speed passes of multiple vehicles around curves so I'm guessing this is the sometimes result of that kind of dangerous driving. One time we came upon a recent accident with multiple fatalities on this road - it's a horrible story and I don't want to get into it.

When I was in college and took my photography more seriously, I wanted to do a body of work of smashed up cars like these- now that I'm older and presumably wiser I'm not sure I'd have the stomach for it.

ANYHOW then I took Lucas to the 'new park' to ride his bike. They built a bike path and put in a playground and grass and such underneath the Metro that never seems to get finished. This is the first time we went there, and Lucas rode a couple miles at least on his bike.

I heard on TV that this will be, when they finally 'finish' it, the shortest Metro in the world at 6 kilometers. I don't know what the hold-up is, apparently they've done test-runs on it and everything. 'The Metro from nowhere to nowhere' was how I heard it described - they lopped off the other 11 kilometers in order to get something finished.

Lucas got tired of riding (and I got tired of running along behind him), so we stopped at the playground so he could use the slide and see-saws and such. I will now take the opportunity to complain about a piece of playground equipment:

These have got to be the stoopidest see-saws I have ever seen in my life. I'm no engineer, but I know enough about levers to understand that these see-saws are either a) too tall or b) too short (lengthwise). They are almost impossible for kids to use due to the brutal angle. I might not be complaining about this, but for some reason this is the padrão (standard) for all the see-saws in all the parks here in Salvador.

And I'm done complaining. These are the funny things that bother me now that I'm a parent. Moving on to the next item, I finally got a close look at one of these:

These towers have been appearing all over the city over the last year or so. They tell the temperature and measure UV radiation, and are rumored to provide wireless internet although I have never tested them. I was mystified by the displays until I finally had this chance to see one up close:

The scale on the left I presume is the relative UV risk, the numbers on the right are much more interesting. They are a suggestion of the SPF you need based on your skin color. They read, from top to bottom:

  • Redheads and Blondes
  • Light Morenos (roughly 'brown people')
  • Dark Morenos
  • Mulatos (this gets confusing) and Negros (literally 'blacks').
I can already feel myself entering dangerous territory as I prepare to talk about skin color. It is well known that Brazilians recognize a wider range of skin tones than we generally do in the US. One of the frequent ones I see is pardo, a brown that is not on this list. Moreno can be confusing because it can refer to a dark-haired as well as a dark-skinned person. Maybe that's why there are both light and dark morenos listed. Mulato is a term I've never really understood. The dictionary in my computer defines it as 'a person of mixed white and black ancestry, esp. a person with one white and one black parent.' By this definition Lucas would be mulato. But here in Brazil I believe it refers more to a rather dark-skinned person, but not quite 'black.' Very confusing. Also not listed on the scale is the colloquial (and possibly pejorative) azulão, which refers to someone who is so dark they have a blue cast to their skin. I wonder if there is an equivalent to this in English.

And that's all I have to say about skin color for today. I hope I didn't offend anyone, it was not my intention to do so.

After our time in the park Lucas enjoyed chicken nuggets, french-fries, and Spongebob Squarepants.

And that was Easter.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Pinte Aki Véio

(Note: this post was started a couple weeks ago and I never published it. I have a bad habit of doing that)

That title translates as 'Paint over here dude,' and it was the name of a graffiti event that I attended this weekend in the city of Serrinha, which is about a three hour drive from Salvador. I almost didn't go, and it's only thanks to my wife that I ended up going, and escaping a weekend of rain in the city.

I'm very glad I went. Not only was it fun to get out of the city, but we were treated very well by the people organizing the event, and they provided plenty of yummy food. Apparently the accommodations weren't too great (in a school with no showers) but we avoided that by staying in a hotel in the middle of the city, which was nice and cheap by Salvador standards.

On the first day, I painted this:

And then, at the request of all the children in the neighborhood, I painted this:

I finally had to tell them that I would only paint the names of kids who were present, no brothers, cousins, boyfriends, girlfriends, etc. Otherwise I would have been at it all night.

That night I went back to the hotel and had a beer in the square by myself. It was almost deserted except for a group of youths playing guitar and a pair of peripatetic teenage girls. The main source of activity was going on in the adjoining square, where a large group of teenage boys were gathered, all of them with small motorcycles. They would zoom out of the square, passing me on one side, and then come back on the other, invariably pulling wheelies which they would hold for 50 to 100 yards. I've never seen so many wheelies pulled in my entire life. It made me glad I'd picked a room off the street as they made quite a racket.

The next day I painted this:

I did not paint the scantily clad lady. That was Monica. I did the 19 'things,' one observer said they were whales, I guess they could be whales. This wall was about 10 feet tall.

I was happy with both of these paintings because they are my first attempts at some ideas I've wanted to work with- first, to do more comic-type paintings in frames, and second, to work with groups of repetitive images. I would like to move away from the flat colors and get back to doing more modeled forms, but for now this will have to do due to budget restraints and the paint I have at my disposal.

One guy came to the event from the neighboring state of Minas Gerais, I liked his stuff very much. He calls himself Hyper, here's an example of an unfinished piece:

To see more of his work, check this out. To see more of my photos from this event, check this.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Facebook Scam

If you use Facebook, you may have noticed that the number of scams is on the rise. A friend of mine had her account hacked, so I learned about a new one today. This was in the form of a chat, with some crook pretending to be her and fabricating an emergency. Here's the transcript. See if you can figure out at what point I realized what was going on:

Hi Mark
how you doing?

hey - on the phone!

i need your help?

give me 10 mins.


What's up K_______?

Mark we need your help down here
we stuck at the moment

what's going on?

we stuck in the UK at the moment

stuck in the UK??

all cash,credit card and cell Phones were stolen off us but luckily we still have our passports with us

oh shit
what can I do to help?

G_______ was beaten up while trying to protect us but his doing well now

is he in the hospital?

please we need you help to get things sorted out donw here so we don't miss our flight back home

what do you need

yea,but doing fine now

thank goodness
do you have a # where I can call you?

don't have access to phone since the muggers went away with my phone and the hotel manangement stop me from making call because of my out standing bills

can I call in to the hotel?

we just need to get the bills sorted out and get a cab to the airport
I'm at a local library trying to get help back and there is no phone in the library
please let know if you can help us out
we promise to pay back once we home??

tell me G_______'s parent's number and I'll call them

don't have any# here with me

you need money?

yes so we can have the bills sorted out
please we promise to have it refunded once we back home

how do I send you money

you can have it wired to us down here vis western union


you need the info to have it done?


hold on let me get you the info

you do that

Location-1 Whitchurch Road Cardiff, CF14 3IL


how soon can you have it done?

I already sent it
will 10,000 dollars be enough?

that is much

I can send more if you like

all we need is just $1,550

I think you need more than that

not at all

Then I signed off. As I was chatting with my "Friend," I called the school where her husband works, and they confirmed that he was definitely not on vacation this week. Since this conversation took place, I have been unfriended by my "Friend." Maybe she realized I didn't actually send the money?

Whoever hacked her account changed her place of residence to London, England, but left her workplace as Western Massachusetts. Wonder how that's supposed to work?

My friend wrote me back and confirmed that he is at home with the family, and they are indeed fine.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Birthday #6 - the Robin Birthday

Lucas' birthday was yesterday, and we are all recovering now. Like last year, we had the party at his school, which meant it was a 45 minute ordeal that was neatly wrapped up when the teacher whisked him and his classmates away for other activities. It didn't seem like much to me, but he enjoyed it and is satisfied, so if he's satisfied, I'm satisfied, and we've got that out of the way for another year.

As I wrote last year, kid's birthdays are all about the themes, and in previous years Lucas has had Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man as themes. We're still waiting for the Ben 10 birthday, it's possible that that will finally happen next year. This year things got a little complicated because he wanted to do a Robin birthday. Robin was hard because Robin is not in vogue, which means nobody has the ready-made paraphernalia for sale: the hats, napkins, plates, invites, etcetera. That was fine with me, as I'm a DIY kinda guy and I like a challenge. That is, I like this kind of challenge.

I should clarify something at this point. There are a couple different incarnations of Robin, the best known being Sidekick Robin, ala Batman. There is another Robin, member of the Teen Titans, who is not a sidekick. He's the leader of the group. That's the one that Lucas likes.

First thing to prepare were the invites. I felt like I was back in elementary school, making Valentine's Day cards for my classmates. I photoshopped a couple images of Robin and the Teen Titans, with the pertinent info regarding the birthday, and Lucas and I glued the images onto folded pieces of blue paper. They were somewhat haphazard, mostly the ones that Lucas glued. Evani thought they were terrible, but we had fun making them and who cares what anyone thinks.

Another quintessential item was the costume. There were no Robin costumes to be had, and I was kicking myself for not ordering one online while I was in the States, where I could have gotten one for cheap. The only online options here in Brazil were way more than I wanted to pay. Luckily for me, I found a lady who makes costumes to order, and it cost me half of what I was expecting to shell out.

Plates, cups, and gift bags for the other kids all had to be generic. I made some stickers with Robin's head and Lucas' name on them and these went on the gift bags. Another photoshop session and I had an image of Lucas in his new costume next to all the rest of the Teen Titans- this was then printed on edible rice paper and went on top of the cake.

It was while I was getting the rice paper that the light bulb went on over my head. If I couldn't get all the kids Robin/Teen Titans party hats, then why not make Robin masks for everyone? I bought two sheets of this plastic foamy stuff (I'm sure it has a real name) and after a couple hours of work I had 29 masks for all the kids. I haven't watched many episodes of the Teen Titans (it is a cartoon btw), but one of my favorites is when all the other Titans get dressed up as Robin when he is away doing something else. Robin comes back and catches them in his extra costumes, and he says: "You know what Robins? The mask makes me feel cool too." I was hoping all these Robin masks w0uld make everyone feel cool.

I think I was fairly successful. Judge for yourself:

One last thing: Lucas always gets a bunch of presents from his classmates, one of which this year was a game called Futebol de Botão, aka 'Table Soccer,' a game I had never heard of before. After watching a YouTube video about it, it appears it's kind of a big deal. It's got a bit of Tiddlywinks in it, and a bit of Shuffleboard as well. And I hate to say it, but it's the kind of game I could actually see myself getting enthusiastic about. I hate to say this because I'm not a soccer fan and it seems a bit dorky, which by extension, would make me... a bit... dorky. Lucas likes it too, let's see if it lasts.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Lanced Digit

My son managed to get his sucking thumb infected. Back in my thumb-sucking days, I'd switch off from one to the other but Lucas will only suck his left thumb, unless the situation is dire, as it was last night, and nobody slept much as a result.

Today the swollen digit and the child carting it around had to be taken to the doctor. Lucas had asked me about 100 times if the doctor was going to 'poke' it, and I tried to be equivocal, but I knew the truth. I tried a nausea analogy, telling him how much I hate to vomit, and will do almost anything to avoid it, but when I finally get around to barfing I always feel better. Same thing with the thumb- a brief poke, and almost instant relief. No more howling pain just brushing it against something.

When the Zero Hour arrived, Lucas began to freak out. The doctor asked him if he was a man or a rat, and without hesitation he said the latter. I realized I'd have to force him down and restrain him, and he started to howl. He howled long and loud, through the whole procedure, and everyone in the hospital heard him, probably thinking he was being tortured. This in spite of the anesthetic. He howled right through the bandaging, and didn't stop until he was off the table, when he started grinning. The doctor said she thought he was indeed a rat.

No thumb-sucking tonight, not on the big swaddled thumb at least. I told Lucas not to get the bandage wet. "Why?" he asked, a nearly constant question these days. I asked him if he wanted his thumb to get worse, if he wanted to go back to the doctor and have her poke it again. "Yes" was the instant reply.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Nuclear Accident

I've been following the story of Japan's developing nuclear disaster with mounting horror and, I have to admit it, a sick fascination as well. Then I start thinking about what it really means to have bits of plutonium floating around in the atmosphere and I start freaking out.

This may seem flip and foolish, but one thing that has been bothering me is why there aren't any robots on the scene. I just googled 'japan nuclear robot' and apparently I'm not the only one who's wondering- my guess is there are plenty of people in Japan asking the same question. Not only do we see the most advanced robot technology coming out of Japan, but they also created a whole mythology around giant robots (see this article on Wikipedia). I know it's naive and simplistic, and typical of a sci-fi fan like myself to say so, but a giant robot would be the perfect thing to dump seawater on those reactors, and it would only take one to get the job done.

Fantasies aside, there are robots searching the rubble in the aftermath of the quake - I saw a video about one that looks like a snake with cilia - and apparently robots were used after both Chernobyl and 3 Mile Island for cleanup (read this). Certainly they will be used in the aftermath of Fukushima as well. But unfortunately it looks like Japan, and the rest of the world, hasn't yet developed a robot with the skills needed to address this particular situation. But I bet you that we're going to see a whole new generation of 'disaster responder' robots in the wake of this disaster- watch for one that can carry a fire hose over all kinds of terrain, or robotic helicopters big enough to carry heavy payloads, like seawater, or cement, or boric acid.

Although I was raised to believe that nuclear power is a great evil, as an adult I've largely come to believe that it is merely in its infancy - that in most respects, it is actually a much cleaner fuel than the ones we use generally. But that's in most respects - if something goes wrong, it goes wrong in a big way. Or in a small way: the Vermont Yankee power plant that is located within a minimum evacuation radius of the city of Brattleboro, Vermont where I used to live was recently discovered to be leaking radiation.

I'm no longer sure, not that I was ever completely sure, that nuclear power is worth this risk. Especially with enough sunlight falling on this freakin' country to probably power the entire world forever. Brazil is hot, and as I learned in 7th grade science class, heat is power. Hell, all those nuke plants do in the end is boil water. Lots of good ways to do that.

One last thing on this topic, getting back to the 'nuclear infancy' idea: you've heard of plutonium, you've heard of uranium, but have you ever heard of thorium? I hadn't either until last year, but read this, which I clipped from Wikipedia (yeah, yeah, I know, it's Wikipedia...):

Key Benefits

According to Australian science writer Tim Dean, "thorium promises what uranium never delivered: abundant, safe and clean energy - and a way to burn up old radioactive waste."[16] With a thorium nuclear reactor, Dean stresses a number of added benefits: there is no possibility of a meltdown, it generates power inexpensively, it does not produce weapons-grade by-products, and will burn up existing high-level waste as well as nuclear weapon stockpiles.[16] Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, of the British Telegraph daily, suggests that "Obama could kill fossil fuels overnight with a nuclear dash for thorium," and could put "an end to our dependence on fossil fuels within three to five years."[14]
Does that sound too good to be true? Yes, it does. But it does make me curious. Then again, these miracle stories about cheap, abundant energy pop up from time to time and nothing ever seems to come of them, for whatever reason. And I didn't say conspiracy, thank you.

My thoughts are with the people of Japan in the midst of these horrible events. I don't know what else to say without sounding sappy. Strength, fortitude, a speedy recovery. And I hope Fukushima is not nearly the disaster it sounds like from half way across the world.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Carnaval 2011

... is over. Most of our guests have left, although we still have a couple stragglers. I can honestly say we had the best houseful of people yet, although it wasn't without some drama.

Carnaval for me is not as exciting as it used to be. I ended up spending most of my time with Lucas, both on and off the street, and that gets pretty tiring pretty fast. It's stressful to navigate the Carnaval on one's own, and it's stressful to navigate the streets with Lucas in tow, so add the two together and you get major stress. Plus I get to feeling like a walking wallet as I buy popcorn, spray foam in a can, hot dogs, cotton candy, soda, and plastic swords that light up - not to mention the trampoline and face-painting. In spite of this, I feel that the only word that comes out of my mouth is 'No' because there is oh so much more to buy- something our kids learn from a very early age. Don't get the wrong idea, I like spending Carnaval with Lucas- Evani tries to send him off every year to an aunt's house and I howl in protest. One of the high points of Carnaval was taking him to see the Blue Man Group on top of a trio eletrico. They mostly just threw freebies into the crowd, but Lucas enjoyed it.

We had a full house this year, eleven people from eight countries (plus various friends and family) although they weren't all here at the same time. They all got along well almost from the start, and it turns out that two of the couples actually knew each other from previously- they'd met in Peru or some spot and had run into one another somewhere else as well, that happens with some frequency when you are traveling a particular route (it's happened to me) but still it must have been a surprise to see familiar faces in the same house with you.

Only one couple seemed a bit off - an American dude and his Spanish-speaking South-American girlfriend, who was not from Brazil. We weren't even sure if they were a couple at first- it seemed like things weren't going too well between them. To make a long story short, it went from bad to worse, she was giving him the silent treatment and pretty obviously flirting with another guest in the house, and eventually the guy decided to get a room in a hotel and get out of the house. I spent some time trying to mediate the situation as the dude was threatening to go back home and leave her there and she was saying fine, let him go. I thought I was making headway until he left the country and left her at our house. I got pretty annoyed at that point, at both of them - her for biting the hand that was feeding her and him for... abandoning someone who didn't even speak the language and had never traveled internationally and was completely broke at our house. That lasted a day or so until the guy got back in contact with me, and asked if his 'ex' needed anything for "food or cigarettes or anything." I wrote him back saying she needed money for a ticket back to Rio so she could get her flight back to her family and two young kids.

He ended up sending three times what I suggested.

That pretty much changed the dynamic- a ticket was purchased, she waited out the rest of Carnaval and I think even enjoyed herself some, and in about forty minutes the cab is coming to take her to the airport.

This year's crime included a lost camera and a brazen pick-pocketing in a restaurant that resulted in the victim's shorts being torn from top to bottom and way too much money being absconded with- the guy really should have left that money at the house. In a separate incident, some Brazilian dude pulled the wrong gringa's hair and ended up on the ground under a rain of fists from her boyfriend- but only after he sucker-punched that same boyfriend from behind and then tried to run away. Opinion seems to be unanimous that this was a righteous move on the boyfriend's part- there is an attitude amongst some of the locals that all estrangeiros are idiots and you can push them around with no consequences... at least one deluded troublemaker has had his attitude adjusted.

Actually, I think the aforementioned South-American girlfriend had pretty much the same attitude toward her American ex-boyfriend. Problem is- I'm not sure she's been disabused of that notion.

This last item is the most horrible.

Lucas was jumping on the trampoline with his cousin, and I was standing there waiting for them to finish; it was not yet late on the last night of Carnaval. Suddenly, there was that electric confusion that erupts whenever there is a fight- people were running in the street in front of me, where the parade route was only a block away. I panicked a bit, as Lucas and his cousin were behind the protective netting on the trampoline- protected in some situations, more exposed in others, and not easy to get to. Suddenly a man is sitting in the entryway of the restaurant just in front of me, and he's bleeding. A lot. He's been stabbed, and his shirt is soaked with blood, and he also has blood coming out of his mouth. A crowd quickly gathered, but not fast enough- I turned around and there were Lucas and his cousin standing and watching. I immediately said "Keep jumping!" which they did, but they definitely saw the guy. I debated whether I should get them out of there but the cops showed up quickly and it seemed unlikely there would be any more fighting. It took what seemed like a long time for paramedics to show up and haul the guy out of there. The floor was washed and it was back to business as usual, albeit with a new batch of customers- nobody sat nonchalantly finishing their meal through the ordeal. If that had happened in Amherst, MA or Brattleboro, VT they probably would have cordoned off the area and closed the restaurant for a couple days.

I checked the internet the next day but couldn't find any news about a death in my neighborhood, so I guess he pulled through. I found out later that it was a guy from the area, a local bad boy who apparently 'had it coming to him.' This lends marginal credence to a cynical theory I've developed this year during Carnaval- that of all the thousands of people who flood my neighborhood for this one week a year, from all parts of Salvador and Brazil and even the rest of the world, the most obnoxious ones all live here. In my neighborhood. And guess what? When everyone else packs up and leaves, they stick around.

Of course, that's just a broad generalization by a grumpy gringo.

Sunday, February 27, 2011


Today is the first day I can remember when I have not eaten any meat, at all. I did have a large cheese omelet, so a vegan I am not. Although I would like to reduce my meat consumption, I don't expect this feat to be repeated anytime soon.

Today I did not leave my house. This is not the first time this has occurred in recent history, and I expect it will be repeated relatively soon.

Carnaval starts this week, so I expect I will be leaving the house with some frequency over the next few days. We also have guests arriving starting tomorrow, which is always kinda fun. I'm a little nervous about Evani's slightly bizarre cougar friend who is supposed to spend the week here helping out- she may drive me insane. At least she means well. And she will help out.

In more important news, Lucas' new teacher has suddenly decided to resign, for 'personal / health' reasons. They called us parents in to a meeting to tell us. Lucas is bummed, he likes her. He's liked almost all his teachers, so I hope he likes her replacement as well. The meeting, after we got over the teacher-leaving part, quickly degenerated into a group of frustrated mothers complaining that their kids can't read yet, even though their public-school friends are all reading and writing already. I'm not worried. Lucas will be reading soon enough. I only hope he becomes a real reader, like me, and enjoys it.

Finally, be careful what you put on Facebook, because your old acquaintances might figure out things about you. I often wonder what happened to old friends and roomies and so forth, and until this social networking thing came along I did just that- wondered. Sometimes Google helped, but now all I have to do is search a name in Facebook and it comes up, more often than not. Then, the next time I wonder about that person, I can go and see if they've done anything interesting, like gotten married or had a kid. I enjoy seeing old friends with their kids that I've never met, and probably will never meet. Well, I got wondering about this guy I shared an apartment with about twenty years ago, so I went and had a look at his profile. We'd friended one another, but as so often happens, never really made contact beyond that. This guy was super nice, and an excellent roommate, but one thing has bothered me about that time in my life- and I discovered it needn't bother me any more.

You see, I had just turned 21 and was just getting used to the idea that I could walk into any store that sold booze and buy myself some. I liked beer, so that's what I bought. Six packs of Red, White, and Blue if I remember correctly. I'd hang out in the living room and watch TV, drinking the beer, and not thinking much of it. My roommate would almost never share the living room with me, instead, he would stay in his room, reading the Bible.

I discovered he was religious as soon as I moved in, but didn't think it was going to be a problem. Lucky for him (or for me) I wasn't smoking anything at that time, so that was never an issue. I was 21 and oblivious, and it wasn't until much later that it occurred to me that it might have bothered him that I was drinking in the house. This became more and more of a concern of mine, to the point that I remembered myself as this nasty punk-rock drunk trying to lead his virtuous roommate to temptation. I kinda wanted to apologize for my insensitive behavior.

Well, all that changed when I looked at his profile and saw him with what looked like a mixed drink in his hand. A bunch of his status updates mentioned meeting various people at different bars. And there was more than one reference to 'partying hard.'

No more guilt. I don't believe he started drinking because of me- my guess is it happened long after we shared the place. So he probably doesn't remember me poorly- after all, he did friend me.

None of this would be a big deal except that I know, because of the faith he was a part of, his drinking is a very big deal. He is almost certainly no longer part of the church. This was probably as radical a life change for him as my moving to Brazil was for me.

I'm not a religious person, but I try to respect all religions, even when I don't agree with a lot of the doctrine. I must confess I was a little saddened to see him with that drink in his hand. Or maybe just a little shocked.

So now what? Do I write him something on Facebook, put something on his wall: "See you like to PARTY now dude, rock on!!!"

Nah. Too awkward. I won't do anything. Or rather, anything beyond writing this post. I still have fond memories of the guy- he was one of the first people I met that was interested in electronic music and he was waiting for electronic beats to get mixed up with Jazz, something he was also an avid fan of. When I first discovered Acid Jazz, a couple years later, he was the first guy I thought of.