Winter weekend getaways

21 02 2010

Canada is a great place to live, and I have thoroughly enjoyed my 13+ years living in the Great White North. But I confess that the winter months still make me homesick, my sun-deprived self always demanding some sun rays and a vacation down South between December and March.

This year, however, a mid-winter vacation was not possible, so we overcame our cryophobia and decided to spend two 3-day weekends up North in Muskoka in February. Both mini-vacations went so well that I’m considering going for these cold getaways much more often from now on.

The first trip was to a place facing the beautiful Oxtongue Lake, just a few kilometres from the Algonquin Park West entrance:


Oxtongue Lake in Ontario, Canada

It was a weekend with clear night skies, no wind, cold temperatures and a full moon:

Frozen Oxtongue Lake under a full moon

The picture above is a bit crappy, but the actual experience of walking on the frozen lake covered by snow under a full moon was memorable. The snow absorbed the sounds and reflected the moonlight, the lack of wind and proper insulation made the night walking pleasant and a very unusual sensorial experience overall.

Also unusual was barbecuing under the snow:

Hummm… Picanha BBQ…

Best of all, we had the tobogganing hill for ourselves for most of the weekend:


L trying solo tobogganing for the first time

And then doing it all by himself

Last weekend, we went back to Muskoka, this time close to Sparrow Lake. It was not as secluded as the other place, but it was good to try a variety of winter sports. The hotel offered free gear rentals for skating, cross-country skiing, snow-shoeing and curling. It was the first Winter Olympics weekend, and L was very excited in trying stuff he was seeing on TV:

First time donning skates


Snow-shoeing


Cross-country skiing

Saying that I have two left feet for winter sports is an understatement. I excel in being bad in all sports, but there’s no word to describe my performance (or lack thereof) with skis or skates. Hopefully, L will not inherit my total ineptitude to brave snow and ice, and his newly discovered interest on winter sports will last beyond the Vancouver 2010 games. For the first time ever, I feel almost sad that the end of winter is already around the corner.





Itu 400 – Part 4: Flickr Slideshow

2 02 2010

Well, today is the day. Happy 400th birthday!

more about "400 Fotos do cotidiano ituano", posted with vodpod





Itu 400 – Part 3: The land that Google forgot

30 01 2010

Google Maps still amazes me, even after all these years. It evolved from a plain online map to a full-fledged tool with niceties such as Street View and the ability to add your own location. If you live in Toronto, New York or Paris, you can’t help but expect that one day live images of your street will be available.

On the other side, if you live in a small city in South America, chances are that you won’t be that lucky. Here’s a snapshot of the satellite view of Itu in Google:


Itu, city core, Google Maps

As you can see using the red and green arrows as a reference, the map view and the satellite view are off by about 50 m. If you can read a bit of Portuguese, you’ll find that this map shows two city halls and, oddly enough, a campsite in the middle of the city! And if you ever lived there, you’ll spot many other errors in the map, with several points of interest with the wrong name or in the wrong location.

I wonder if a Street View of Itu will ever be considered by Google. Until that day comes, I’ll be helping them with my 2 cents: I’ve just visited their Local Business Centre and added my brother’s restaurant to it. After all, social media gurus told me that, if you are not Googleable, you don’t exist :-P

For my previous posts celebrating the 400 years of Itu, click here and here.





Itu 400 – Part 2: There are places I remember

23 01 2010

I’ve been late with my Itu 400 series posts, and, since February 2nd is around the corner, I’d better post at least a second installment. I fully realize that most people don’t care about a small town in the middle of South America, but the most liberating thing about having your own blog is that you grow comfortable about just writing to yourself. If you get any readers along the way, that’s a bonus, but not the reason to blog.

Itu has always been proud of its history: the locals often hold public events celebrating the imagery of times past. For Europeans and Asians, 400 years is like peanuts, but it’s not too bad for cities in the New World. I always enjoyed seeing how cities, like people, grow old and reinvent themselves.

We typically celebrate the Internet as the source for the latest and greatest, but its ability to give us a window to the long forgotten past is equally brilliant. As social media becomes more pervasive, we no longer need to rely solely on rare archives of some obscure museum curator to find rarities. That yellowish photo in your grandfather’s box can easily make its way to Flickr or your blog/twitpic/posterous presence, and suddenly be accessible to the world. For example, you can now find this great video of Itu in YouTube:

It’s a pity to learn that the city core was so preserved back in the 1960s and is a mix of old and new today. Most of the Portuguese-style colonial architecture houses gave place to modern buildings since then, so the opportunity to become one day a UNESCO World Heritage Centre is now lost forever.

During my last time in Itu, I took a few pictures of the old Itu archives and compared them to how those places look today:



Central Square



Rua Paula Souza


Taxi Service



Shortest Pedestrian Crossing in South America?


My elementary school

Looking at all these old pictures, I can’t help but think about Cinema Paradiso, one of my favourite movies of all time. The old cinema theatre is now a public parking lot. I didn’t take a picture of it, as it was a bit too depressing.


Cine Marrocos in its last days
Source: Cine Mafalda blog

On the bright side, writing this post I found that there is a director’s cut of Cinema Paradiso, with extra 51 minutes at the end of it! I watched this movie for the first time a very long time ago in some obscure film festival in São Paulo, and always had the impression that after the credits there was a very short scene with the adult Salvatore meeting Elena again, but after seeing the movie on DVD I thought it was some kind of urban hallucination I had. Now I know that at least I was not that crazy. Here’s a teaser for you:

See? Even if nobody ever reads this post, I think I already benefited from writing it. Now I need to find where to buy the DVD for less than the outrageous price at Amazon.ca (CAD$ 102.33 for a DVD? Seriously?).





Itu 400 – Part 1: small town, large ambitions

19 12 2009

If you are not from Brazil, you probably never heard about Itu. Itu is a small city about 100 km from São Paulo, known by many in Brazil as the city where everything is exaggeratedly big. Well, not everything. I was born there, so all the 1.67 m of me (5’6″, generously speaking) are genuinely from Itu :-) .

Of course, everything being big is a marketing ploy to attract tourists, started by a local comedian in a popular TV show in the late 60s. That notwithstanding, that meme was so sticky that even today people in Brazil still call anything too large as being “from Itu”. This is my son last month, amazed by Itu’s public phone:

Here are some other X-Large oddities:


Traffic lights


Popsicle ad and chair


Popsicle ad, chair and another phone

The list goes on and on: you can get pacifiers, combs, hammers, pencils, paper clips and even condoms (!) as Itu-sized souvenirs. But there’s much more to Itu than that (in my naturally biased view, of course). On February 2nd, 2010, Itu will be celebrating its 400th anniversary:


Countdown to Feb 2nd, 2010

Founded in 1610, Itu is one of the oldest cities in the Americas. I wish I could be there for the big party, but since I can’t, I’ll settle for writing a few more blog posts about this beloved town over the next 44 days.





Twilight: New Moon – Interactive Displays in Brazil

7 12 2009

I started writing this post a month ago, but stopped as I did not have access to the Internet while in Brazil, so pardon the taste of yesterday’s news here.

Unlike Bernie, I don’t have a teenager daughter, so I have just a very fuzzy idea about what The Twilight Saga is all about. But it doesn’t take a Roger Ebert or Peter Travers to know that it’s at least as popular in Brazil as it is in Canada and the US: its second installment ranked as the top box office in Brazil this year. Taking the subway in São Paulo 2 weeks before the opening of New Moon, it was hard to miss this eye-catching, vending-machine-like, err, device:

Twilight Interactive Display in São Paulo

Here are some more pictures, in case Twilight is your thing:

The main feature was the embedded camera, that allowed you to take a picture of yourself and edit it to transform yourself into a werewolf or a vampire. Your picture then became part of the gallery for all to see. No, I did not try it, or at least that’s what I claim :-) . It actually looked a lot like a very big version of an iPhone app, except that you could not shake it to start over. You could also watch movie trailers and download an app to your cell via Bluetooth.

The company behind it was a Brazilian “digital interaction agency”, Ginga. I know the explanation above is as clear as mud, so here’s their own video showing how it works:

How effective is this new media outlet? Hard to tell. But they used a 1.0 version of their displays for the first movie of the series, back in December 2008, and Ginga claims the following:

This solution was integrated with the whole digital campaign: website, banners, and a strong community created for the fans in Brazil.

RESULTS

Over 4.5 million people reached by the subway campaign over a month.

One of the top 10 box-offices in 2008 in Brazil.

Over 180,000 content downloads via Bluetooth.

Not too shabby, eh? Here’s the video of their first version (which, by the way, looks much more impressive than the second one):

P.S.: If you see me blogging next time about Hannah Montana, it’s a sign that the end of the world is coming.





The Circus and le Cirque

7 08 2009

Over the long weekend, my wife and I took L to see the Shrine Circus at the Centre Point Mall in North York.

Looking at the kids on the back of this elephant was a trip down the memory lane:

Despite all the controversy around the use of animals – a Twitter search for that event will return at least as many protests as praises – I have to admit that one of my earliest and fondest memories as a kid is playing with a lion cub in some anonymous circus, duly recorded in a badly preserved picture (I’m the one on my father’s lap):

The last time I’ve been to a traditional circus – i.e., excluding the Cirque du Soleil – I was a 9-year-old living in the same city I was born at. I vividly recall my friend Drausio petting a camel and getting sprayed with drool all over his face – no picture of that, unfortunately :-P , and no relationship with the delicious camel drool Portuguese dessert, or “baba de camelo”.

Back then, having a circus coming to our city was a big deal, as the only other mass entertainment available for kids was to watch old movies on Sunday’s matinées. Old is an understatement: I actually remember going to a black-and-white Tarzan movie featuring Johnny Weissmuller. Most Disney cartoons didn’t get distributed beyond the large cities, but you don’t miss what you never had, so I have no complaints there. The pluses of growing up on the countryside outweigh by far the constraints – in my naturally biased view, of course.

Not much changed since: the Shrine Circus 2009 show was not very different from the ones I used to see so many years ago: no high-tech involved, just the artist, the act and the public, all frozen in time and space. Hopefully I’ll be proven wrong here, but I think I just saw the last few breaths of a dying art. I quoted Evan Solomon (CBC) a few months ago saying that “when a new technology comes, the incumbent never dies: it simply goes after deeper efficiencies”. The innovation pipeline does not always work like that, as typewritters and the telegraph can attest. Radio, TV, movies, games and the Internet all fragmented the entertainment space in formats that are more easily consummable, forcing live performances to go after deeper efficiencies.Thus, circus performances will live on through the several forms of Cirque Nouveau, but somehow the amateur spirit is gone as shown in this Wikipedia excerpt:

Cirque expanded rapidly through the 1990s and 2000s, going from one show to approximately 3,500 employees from over 40 countries producing 15 shows over every continent except Africa and Antarctica, with an estimated annual revenue exceeding US$ 600 million. The multiple permanent Las Vegas shows alone play to more than 9,000 people a night, 5% of the city’s visitors, adding to the 70+ million people who have experienced Cirque. In 2000, Laliberté bought out Gauthier, and with 95% ownership, has continued to expand the brand. Several more shows are in development around the world, along with a television deal, women’s clothing line and the possible venture into other mediums such as spas, restaurants and nightclubs.

I used “amateur”, but the precise word is “mambembe” – no idea on how to translate that from Brazilian Portuguese. So, in the mambembe spirit, I’d like to conclude this post with this very amateurish video with my favourite circus song:





Five things I didn’t know about Darwin

28 02 2009

You should probably know by now that in 2009 we celebrate 200 years of Charles Darwin’s birth and 150 years since “The Origin of Species” was first published. I’ve been feasting on all the information flooding in the media about him, and I learned quite a bit about the man and the book in the last few months. Here’s my top 5 list, in no particular order.

1. A dinasty of sorts
The last publication by Darwin, written just 2 weeks before he died, was about a tiny clam found on a beetle leg. Nothing particularly interesting there. The person sending Charles the specimen was Walter Drawbridge Crick, a shoemaker and amateur naturalist. Even less remarkable, one could say, until you learn that Walter would eventually have a grandson named Francis, of Watson & Crick’s double helix fame, arguably the second most important insight in Biology, and perhaps in all sciences (Source: National Geographic Magazine).

2. Evolution
The word “Evolution”, so associated with Darwin in our collective mind, never appears in “The Origin of Species”. The closest you get is the last word in the last sentence of the book, a poetic gem of scientific literature: “There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.” You can check that yourself by downloading a PDF version of the book here (Source: Quirks and Quarks podcast, CBC).

3. Survival of the fittest
Even more puzzling is the fact that the term “survival of the fittest” was first coined by Herbert Spencer in the book “The principles of biology” (1864), and only shows up in late editions of Origin, duly acknowledging Spencer’s authorship: “I have called this principle, by which each slight variation, if useful, is preserved, by the term natural selection, in order to mark its relation to man’s power of selection.  But the expression often used by Mr. Herbert Spencer, of the Survival of the Fittest, is more accurate, and is sometimes equally convenient.”. (Sources: The Phrase Finder and Gutemberg project).

4. The destiny of species
Long before coming up with his theory about where the species came from, many of Charles’ objects of study ended up in his stomach. Darwin used to eat several of the animals he helped describing, including, but not limited to, water-hogs (capivaras for Brazilians, a REALLY big rat, in fact the largest rodent in the world), birds of prey like the caracara, and armadillos. I guess that to provide a comprehensive description of a species, behaviour and looks were not enough: the more information the better :-) . I learned about this bizarre piece of trivia while watching the excellent “Darwin’s Legacy” course by Stanford University, available in iTunes U., but you can find a very good description of Darwin’s culinary adventures here.

5. Brazil according to Darwin
Charles, to put it mildly, didn’t enjoy much his time in Brazil, affirming at the end of his “Voyage of the Beagle” travelog: “On the 19th of August we finally left the shores of Brazil. I thank God, I shall never again visit a slave-country.” I’m not sure if slavery in Brazil was worse than in other parts of the world, but being the last country in the Western hemisphere to abolish slavery suggests that the Brazilian society of the 18th century relied heavily on it, to the point that even today Brazil still has the second largest population of black origin in the world (after Nigeria). On the other side, Darwin was awed by the forests in Brazil: “Among the scenes which are deeply impressed on my mind, none exceed in sublimity the primeval forests undefaced by the hand of man; whether those of Brazil, where the powers of Life are predominant, or those of Tierra del Fuego, where Death and decay prevail.  Both are temples filled with the varied productions of the God of Nature: — no one can stand in these solitudes unmoved, and not feel that there is more in man than the mere breath of his body.” Both quotes are a bit surprising given their quasi-spiritual tone. Finally, to conclude on a lighter note, this is Darwin’s account of Carnival folies in Salvador, Bahia, written on March 4th, 1832:

This day is the first of the Carnival, but Wickham, Sullivan & myself nothing undaunted were determined to face its dangers. — These dangers consist in being unmercifully pelted by wax balls full of water & being wet through by large tin squirts. — We found it very difficult to maintain our dignity whilst walking through the streets. — Charles the V has said that he was a brave man who could snuff a candle with his fingers without flinching; I say it is he who can walk at a steady pace, when buckets of water on each side are ready to be dashed over him. After an hours walking the gauntlet, we at length reached the country & there we were well determined to remain till it was dark. — We did so, & had some difficulty in finding the road back again, as we took care to coast along the outside of the town. — To complete our ludicrous miseries a heavy shower wet us to the skins, & at last gladly we reached the Beagle. — It was the first time Wickham had been on shore, & he vowed if he was here for six months it should be only one.

Watching Darwin braving the festive Carnival crowds in Salvador would have been priceless. If only we had Flickr and YouTube back then!





Flashback: Hawaii Superferry questionnaire

15 12 2008

Back in September, I went to Hawaii for a week with my family, and we decided to go from Honolulu to Maui by ferry. It’s a slow trip compared to taking a flight, but worthwhile especially if you are traveling with kids.

Hawaii Superferry

As you approach the boarding lanes, a Hawaii Superferry employee goes through the standard procedure of checking your vehicle and asking you questions about what you are taking with you. Even though you are hopping from island to island in the same state, the procedure resembles crossing the border with a neighbouring country or boarding an international flight, which makes sense in today’s world, and also for environmental reasons. So both sides engaged in this somewhat flat but polite conversation that goes like this:

“Are you carrying any firearms or ammunition?”
“No.”

“Are you taking any domestic animals with you? Any livestock?”
“No on both accounts.”

“Do you have any flammable materials in your baggage?”
“No.”

“Any plants, seeds or soil?”
“Nope.”

“What about human bones?”
“No. Wait. What???”

I know that there must be a reason for the question, some historical precedent or technical legality justifying it. But I can’t help but wonder if anyone was ever caught in the process. “Human bones? Hummm, let me see. Hey sweetheart, are those bones in your bag human?”





2.0 Tales: A not so flat world

11 12 2008

This is an old story, but since I never blogged about it, I thought it would be worthwhile to share

In the summer of 2007, I was visiting the IBM’s Banking Industry Solution Centre (BISC) in Barcelona, and was asked to run a session on Web 2.0 and Social Computing to the local team of young developers. At some point, I was mentioning how the world was not actually flat, and how different countries tend to choose distinct online social networks. I then asked: “Facebook is popular in Canada and in the US, Bebo in UK, Orkut in India and Brazil. Which Social Network is popular here in Spain?”. All those young faces were staring at me as if I were the biggest loser on Earth. Then, somebody took the courage and said: “Err. None. Here in Spain, we just go to bars and talk to each other”.

Confirming that assessment, I found later that the Forrester’s European Technographics Benchmark Survey for Q2 2007 revealed that both Spain and France had the lowest number of joiners (those who participate on social networking sites like MySpace) among the European countries included in the research, at 5 and 4% respectively.

The lesson learned was that one-size-fits-all does not apply when it comes to the enterprise adoption of social software. It’s important to understand how different age groups, cultures and personalities react to social computing initiatives and tailor your strategy accordingly.





Wrinkled shirts

4 06 2008

This happened on Sunday night in Istanbul.

All the hotels in the city were full, so Bernie and I had to move from the nice Conrad Hotel in Besiktas to the unlisted Villa Zurich Hotel, close to Taksim. I arrived there Sunday night, and my shirts were all badly wrinkled as if they had spent the weekend inside a bottle of Coke or, as they say in Brazil, in the guts of a cow (“na barriga da vaca”).

So, I called the reception and asked for an iron and an ironing board. The person there asked me why I needed an iron for. A bit surprised, I said, “well, my shirts are wrinkled and therefore I need an iron”. Then the person replied: “You want iron for your shirts?” Even more puzzled, I said: “Yes, would that be possible?” and heard “Okay, I’ll send that to you in a moment”.

After about 15 minutes, somebody knocks in my door. I open it, and this person from the hotel has a tray with a glass some white liquid and a straw. I stared at the white glass for about 10 seconds, thinking: this is getting really bizarre. Then I asked: “What’s this?”

The person said: “Didn’t you ask for yogurt?”

Then reality sank in, and I exploded with an uncontrollable laugh. In Turkey, Ayran is a popular salty drink made of yogurt and water. I’m not sure if it’s pronounced the same as “iron”, but with my thick accent I can’t actually blame the reception person for the confusion. The poor guy was probably thinking: this guest is weird, he uses yogurt to starch his clothes.

If you ever go to Turkey, make sure you bring your Picture Dictionary, as known as Universal Phrase Book with you. It can come handy if your Turkish – or your English accent – is as poor as mine. This is ayran:

Ayran
And this is iron:

Electric Iron by Li-Sung





New York – Part 2 of 2: The business

29 04 2008

The client event I was attending in New York was held at the IBM office in midtown, just a couple of blocks from the Central Park. Nice office, even better location, if you ask me.

New York - IBM 590 MadisonNew York - 590 MadisonNew York - Former IBM Tower

In the afternoon, we spent a few hours visiting several retail locations in Manhattan, courtesy of an IBMer who knows that area inside out, and was very kind to pick the cream of the crop. That was a great opportunity to get a glimpse of what retail will look in the near future by observing what’s being tried in the flagship stores. Here’s the highlight reel.

  • The Cube Apple Store – I’ve been to several of those in Canada and in the U.S., but this one is special. Open 24 by 7, 365 days a year, this place is incredibly crowded during the day, so I highly suggest you go there after hours – I went twice, at 4 pm and 2 am, and had a much more civilized experience in the wee hours. The store is actually underground, and the glass cube is the street level entrance. Taking the stairs down gave me the feel that I was entering the Louvre, as the cube reminds me a lot of the pyramids by IM Pei. Somehow, this store feels like a temple dedicated to the Apple brand and technology. I posted some pictures below, but you can see much better ones, and some movies too, here.

New York - Apple Store
New York - Apple StoreNew York - Apple Store
New York - Apple Store 5th Ave

  • Niketown – Talking about Apple, the Nike store ostensively co-brands Nike+ with Apple. I’m not a runner – in fact I hate running – but this is so cool that I may even try it one day. The whole store is very well thought, from the colour palette to the overall layout and the glass tubes to transfer items from the storage rooms to the PoS (point-of-sale) stations. Other cool feature is the NIKEiD.STUDIO: you can create shoes customized to your taste and have it delivered to you – if you live in the U.S., of course.
New York - Nike StoreNew York - Nike Store
New York - Nike StoreNew York - Nike Store
New York - Nike StoreNew York - Nike Store
New York - Nike Store

  • Nokia Flagship Store – A three-story mecca for cell-phone fans. The huge screens behind the phones are interactive: they can react to actions such as text messaging and handling of the mobile devices. Very cool and blue. You can get more details about it here.

New York - Nokia Store

  • Citibank – As city regulations around the world become more strict towards visual pollution, retail stores are becoming more creative and using colour and shapes as brand identity clues. I just mentioned the blueness of Nokia’s store. Citibank is using the Chevron format in the façade of its branches. This particular branch is very modular, with sliding internal walls to provide ample spaces during business hours and access to ATMs only after hours. Another curiosity there is a terminal for client feedback, which was used to request a water cooler to be brought back after the branch redesign. Who would’ve thunk that clients would miss the good and old drinking fountain?
New York - Citibank Branch

  • Bank of America – This branch has two interesting features: a bookcase with finance-related books & magazines is a comfortable living room setting, and banners at the top with a timeline showing how BoA’s history is deeply ingrained in the U.S. history. I know it sounds trivial, but it was very well executed. Unfortunately no pictures could be taken inside.

New York - Bank of America Branch
  • Commerce Bank – Open extended hours, including Saturdays and Sundays, this branch has some kiosks with free souvenirs (like pens) and also a coin counter game for kids: if you get the total amount right, you’re eligible for a prize.

New York - Commerce Bank

  • ING Direct Café – This is the one that blew my mind away. This is not a bank office or a branch. It’s more like a Starbucks store, including free Internet access, and it was insanely packed when we visited. Why would a bank do that? Many reasons, including probably some that I have not even thought about yet. Having coffee is a very social thing so people just go there for a break, and while in there, there are some cross-selling opportunities. In the second floor, there’s a space for people to meet or learn about financial services. What a great way to associate a pleasant experience with a strong bran. They also sell souvenirs, including toys for kids with Cedric and Amy, ING characters from Planet Orange. If you were wondering why I tagged this entry as “web20forbiz”, there is your link! You can read more about it here and here.

New York - ING Cafe
New York - ING CafeNew York - ING Cafe

This was a really long post, sorry about that. I should give a prize too to anybody getting to the end of it.





New York – Part 1 of 2: The city

28 04 2008

This blog was not supposed to be a travel blog. I just happen to be traveling a lot in the last 12 months. I hope I can stay home more often soon to be with my wife and son, but at this point that’s more wishful thinking than anything else, as there are a few more trips coming my way in the next month.

Now, once I go on a business trip, I try to make the most out of it. On April 6, I went to New York to participate of a client event, and had a few hours to spare in the city, so I went for a Brazilian churrascaria (man I miss that) and some sightseeing too. As usual, I posted the pics to Flickr and a sample here:

New York - Churrascaria Plataforma

This time around I’ve got a bit disappointed with this Brazilian steakhouse (Plataforma Churrascaria Rodizio). I had been there a few times in the late 1990s and early 2000s and it feels like a different place now. Not too bad, but this restaurant used to be REALLY good. I also went to the other extreme and got some of the world-famous street meat:

New York - Street Food

That was very tasty, I loved it. It just occurred to me that maybe my food critic impressions say more about me than about the places I’m assessing :-).

Then I wandered around aimlessly and took some more pics:

New York - BroadwayNew York - St Patrick's Cathedral
New York - Rockefeller CenterNew York - Tiffany

I also took some time to go to the Rockefeller Center’s observation deck, as known as Top of the Rock. From there you can get a good view of the Empire State and Citigroup buildings, but the view to the Chrysler building – my favourite skyscraper – is kind of obstructed. I know, picky, picky, picky.

New York - Rockefeller Center Observation DeckNew York - Empire States
New York - CitibankNew York - Chrysler MetLife

All in all, a short but packed few hours in the city. If I go again, I’ll try to squeeze in a museum visit or a Knicks game.





Dominican Republic

2 04 2008

I just came back from my vacation after a week of sun, sea and sand. It felt really good to not have a computer around for 7 days to put things in perspective. Buildind sand castles is definitely more fun than blogging or public speaking or business consulting. I could do that for a living if it paid well. Of course, I have ways to go before considering changing careers:

SandCastles

I stayed in a nice resort in Punta Cana. I’ve never been a big fan of the huge resorts in the Caribbean, as they feel pretty much like a Second Life of sorts: everything is fabricated to look like the stereotyped tropical paradise. But I confess that this time I was just looking for a place to relax, and that is their specialty.

I took a day to at least get a glimpse at real Dominican life and went to Santo Domingo. The Dominican Republic has been through a lot since the first Europeans came in the late 15th century, and just walking down the streets of Santo Domingo and seeing the poor countryside tells you that the world is anything but flat.

Back to Toronto, I have a huge backlog of emails and urgent tasks to deal with, so enough of blogging for today. As a filler for content, here are some pics I posted to Flickr:

Santo Domingo - Dominican Republic
Small settlement between Punta Cana and Santo Domingo

Santo Domingo - Dominican Republic
Street art

Santo Domingo - Dominican RepublicSanto Domingo - Dominican Republic
Columbus, hopefully not pointing to the Hard Rock Cafe

Santo Domingo - Dominican Republic

Sundial

Santo Domingo - Dominican Republic
Diego’s Columbus Alcazar

Santo Domingo - Dominican Republic
The French Embassy (formerly known as Hernan Cortés’s House)

Santo Domingo - Dominican Republic
Franciscan monastery ruins

Santo Domingo - Dominican Republic
Presidential Palace

Santo Domingo - Dominican Republic
The oldest cathedral in the Americas

Santo Domingo - Dominican Republic
Cathedral’s main nave

Santo Domingo - Dominican Republic
Ugly modern monument (Columbus lighthouse)





My first trip abroad, 16 years ago

16 03 2008

In early February, I was back to Washington, DC, after 16+ years. Washington was the first city I’ve been to outside Brazil. I was just starting my working career, and was sent to King of Prussia in Pennsylvania for a course on hierarchical databases, taking a Pan Am (!) flight from São Paulo to New York’s JFK and then a regional flight to Philadelphia. Pan Am actually closed operations a few months after I came back from that trip (yeah, writing the last couple of sentences just made me feel like three hundred years old). The place I was staying at does not count exactly as an urban centre, as it can be seen here; that’s why Washington takes the dubious honour of being my first.

I still wonder how I managed to end up in the right place. Back then, my proficiency in the English language was somewhere between Tarzan’s and Cheeta‘s.

I remember that I had to take a bus to get to the American Airlines terminal at JFK and couldn’t understand a word of what the bus driver was saying. Luckily, I saw a guy in the bus with a boarding pass for the same flight as mine and just followed him.

When I landed in Philly, I called the shuttle that was supposed to take me to the hotel. The conversation went more or less like this:

Me: “Hello? I need a shuttle to take me to the Holiday Inn in King of Prussia.”
The guy on the other side: whrs thywsf shwptn pclng ywksh knrtspntgh.”
Me: “Errr. Sorry, what did you say?”
The guy on the other side: whrs thywsf shwptn pclng ywksh knrtspntgh.”
Me: “Can you please repeat that once more?”
The guy on the other side: whrs thywsf shwptn pclng ywksh knrtspntgh.” (well, at least he did repeat himself)

[uncomfortable silence on both sides]

The guy on the other side (speaking very slowly): “L-I-S-T-E-N!… W-H-A-T… C-O-L-O-R… I-S… Y-O-U-R… S-H-I-R-T?”
Me (relieved for finally understanding something): “My shirt? Err… Dark blue. Why?”
The guy on the other side: “D-O-N’-T… M-O-V-E!… I’-L-L… F-I-N-D… Y-O-U!”

And so he did! He found me and took me safely to the hotel!

Once in the hotel, I could barely go through the check-in routine, to the point a Korean person was brought in to help with the translation – which didn’t help at all, since the only word I know in Korean is “kimchi”. Things started working when they finally found somebody who could speak Spanish and understand my Portuñol.

There was not a lot to do in King of Prussia. I tried to walk to the mall nearby and was lucky to not have been hit by a car. Definitely not a place for pedestrians. So, when the course was over, boredom trumped fear and I decided to take a train to DC.

Spending three days in Washington was the best decision I made in that trip. Great city, excellent museums, good transportation system, a fantastic zoo, landmarks made familiar by tens of TV shows and movies. That’s when I started thinking seriously about spending a few years abroad.

Being back to the city in February made me feel good. This time around, I did not have much time to enjoy the city. With just a few hours to spare, I just walked down Pennsylvania Avenue and visited the East Building of the National Gallery of Art. Here are some pics:

Washington, DC - CapitolWashington, DC - FBI BuildingWashington, DC - Canadian Embassy
Capitol, FBI and Canadian Embassy

Washington, DC - Somewhere along Pennsylvania Ave NWWashington, DC - National Gallery of Art - East Building
Somewhere along Penn Ave NW and National Gallery of Art (East Building)

Washington, DC - Calder at National Gallery of ArtWashington, DC - Old Post Office
Calder @ NGA and Old Post Office





La Boquería: Barcelona’s Cool Market

21 01 2008

I did not have much time for sightseeing this time around in Barcelona. In my last day there, I followed the suggestion of a fellow IBMer and visited La Boquería, also known as Mercat St Josep. I couldn’t sleep past 5:30 am anyway, so I just had breakfast in the Calderón Hotel and left for the market.

This market is a great place to visit, especially in the early morning hours, while merchants are still getting ready for the day. Like many other markets in large centres, visiting La Boquería is a very sensorial experience. Unlike the ones I have been to before, the one in Barcelona has a large variety of fresh seafood, some of which I had never seen before. When I say fresh, I mean REALLY fresh: some of them were still moving.

Hopefully, next time I go to a tapas bar, I’ll know the difference between chipirones and calamares. And when I see barnacles on the beach from now on, I’ll check if they are the expensive – and weird – variety seen in the two pictures at the bottom of this post.

 




























10 Things I love about London

14 01 2008

This list keeps changing but this is what I have right now, not in any particular order:

  • “Look right” and “Look left” signs. Big life savers.
  • Traveling around the city in the double decker buses.
  • The long escalators in the tube stations.
  • Walking by the Thames on the South Bank pedestrian path.
  • The footy atmosphere on Saturday afternoons.
  • Mild winter temperatures (at least compared to Toronto).
  • Indian food.
  • Wagamama everywhere.
  • “Brilliant”, “Lovely” and “Bloody” used in casual comments all the time.
  • The cosmopolitan feel of it. Nobody seems to be a foreigner here.




London and rain

13 01 2008

I’m in London this week for a work-related event. This is my third time in the city, totaling 22 days so far, and I’m pretty sure I had rain in every single one of them. Not that it rained all the time. I can’t complain much, as I had my fair portion of no-rain too, especially this weekend.

The first 2 days here I actually spent in a hotel close to the Heathrow airport, so it was all work, no fun. This was the view from my Hotel window:

Heathrow from Rennaissance Hotel

On Friday I moved to a hotel in Central London (great tip from a fellow IBMer, Steve Cogan, I owe him a beer now :-) ), and tried to do 3 things I was not able to in my previous two visits:

  1. Watch a Chelsea game
  2. Go to Stonehenge
  3. Take a ride at the London Eye

I managed to do #1 and #2, but the London Eye is closed for maintenance until January 21. Hopefully next time I’ll have a better luck.

I have a huge backlog of things I’d like to blog about, including the football game and the trip to Stonehenge. For now, I’m just posting some pictures here. For the complete set, visit my Flickr page or my photos at Facebook.

London Eye
The London Eye
London - Big Ben
 The Big Ben
London Eye and Parliament

The Big Ben and the London Eye
London - Underground (Waterloo)
Escalators at the Waterloo Underground Station
London - Trafalgar Square
 Trafalgar Square
London - Chelsea vs Tottenham
Chelsea’s Stadium

London - Chelsea vs Tottenham
Celebrations after Beletti scored Chelsea’s first goal
Salisbury
 Salisbury Cathedral
Stonehenge
Stonehenge
Stonehenge
Stonehenge




Sao Paulo and the street smarts of its crowd

6 01 2008

I’ve just come back from spending almost a month in São Paulo, Brazil. Every time I go there I take some time just to walk on the streets to check out new trends and enjoy the chaotic dynamic of the city. A few years ago, James Surowiecki argued in his book “The Wisdom of Crowds” that a wise crowd needs to have diverse, decentralized and independent individuals. I find that São Paulo really excels in those three areas (but this, of course, is likely a biased view):

Diversity

This time around I decided to visit the local Immigration museum (Memorial do Imigrante), and was glad that I did it. Here are some pics:



Many people in North America don’t know that São Paulo was a very popular destination for immigrants in the early 20th century and is now home for about 100 ethnicities. The largest groups (including descendants) are Italians, Portuguese, Lebanese, Japanese and Jews, but you’ll find plenty of “paulistanos” with German, Armenian, Korean, Chinese, French, Spanish, Greek and Ucranian roots. And maybe even some canucks:

Decentralization

Sao Paulo is a really big city, the second largest in the world according to the CityMayors website (behind Seoul), and the 5th largest if you count the surrounding urban areas (behind Tokyo, Mexico City, Mumbai and New York). More than 18 million people live in its metropolitan area. Here are some pics I took from the top of the Banespa building:

São Paulo is a city made of cities. My wife was born and raised in São Paulo and she has never been to most of the places in the old downtown area until her twenties. Places like these ones:


The Banespa building and the Cathedral (Sé)

Teatro Municipal (kind of City Opera House)

Independent thinking

Here is a picture from São Paulo in the early 1900s (taken at the immigrant museum):

And this is a recent picture of the same street (from the Midia Independente website):

The provincial city from 100 years ago was gradually transformed in a city of millions of voices, tens of political parties and hundreds of urban tribes. I found amusing to see this book vending machine in the main subway station:

A close look reveals how eclectic the crowd is:

Where else would you find Linux and Excel sharing the shelf with Nietzsche, Machiavelli, Sherlock Holmes and tips on how to train your dog?

There’s a lot to learn from living in places like São Paulo. I wish I could have a rotating work assignment where I could live a couple of years each in large urban centres like Tokyo, Mumbai, Seoul, Mexico City, Beijing, Istanbul, Moscow and, why not?, New York. Those are all like living organisms, showing that, at a very close range, the world is anything but flat.








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