Archive for the ‘Brazil’ Category

Having returned from Brazil, I thought I would revisit my July 8 post, 5 Tech Things That Will Keep My Family Safe during the Rio Olympics to report on how the tools actually performed.

Google Translate – we’d heard that not many people speak English in Brazil and that was certainly the case in the parts of Rio and Salvador we visited. So, despite some drawbacks, Google Translate became an essential tool. We used it on my wife’s iPhone, turning on the data function only when we needed it. It worked great for short conversations like asking where things were in the grocery store. However, more in depth chats were challenging when using the audio feature instead of text as people tended to speak in long paragraphs, which would come out as gibberish. (My most used line was, “You-have-to-say-one-sentence-at-a-time.”) So, for times like that we used…

Whatsapp – Once when Google Translate failed us in our attempt to communicate with a guy sent to fix our air conditioner, he suggested using Whatsapp to call our Airb&b host to translate. It worked perfectly, despite our host living in Washington, DC. In fact, we used Whatsapp exclusively communicate with both our hosts because it’s free.

Uber – We’d been told to use Uber because it was cheaper than taxis but we ended up using it for more important reasons. In a country where few people speak English and we don’t speak Portuguese, Uber removed the need to haggle over money since it’s all automatically paid by credit card. We also didn’t have to explain where we were going as our drivers’ GPS took care of that. Lastly, we didn’t have to depend on knowing a taxi company telephone number or hoping an empty one came by when we needed it because we could request one on our phone.

This really saved us one day in Salvador when were playing pickup soccer with some kids in a park near a beach. We were about to start our second game when a boy about 15 years old named Rodrigo pulled us aside and said, “This part of Salvador gets unsafe at night and it’s about an hour from sunset so you and your family should leave now.” I pulled out the iPhone and six minutes later we Ubered off safely into the sunset.

Laptop – I was blogging the trip for and brought a MacBook to do it because I hate creating large content on touch screen keyboards. Also, blogging requires opening and switching between lots of windows which is way easier on a laptop than an iPad or phone. However, the laptop also served an unexpected purpose: being the place to dump pictures and videos from my phone. Without the laptop, my phone would have filled up the first day and I wouldn’t have been able to take any more pictures!

To SIM or not to SIM – our Rio host told me I could get data on my cell phone by buying a SIM card from a local Brazilian carrier and putting it in my phone. He said it would cost about $5 Canadian. As it turned out, we got along with just my wife’s phone being connected as we never separated and many of the places we visited had pretty good wifi. (Two notable exceptions were the Olympic stadiums (one for the athletics, the other for soccer). Both had paid wifi with long registration processes that didn’t work for any of us.

Out of curiosity, I bought a SIM card on the day we were leaving. It cost 10 Brazilian Reals or about $5 Canadian like he said. I popped it in my phone and I got a message asking me to enter the supplied PIN #. When I did so it said the PIN was invalid. That disappointment was, luckily, an exception on a trip where tech was mostly like a reliable friend.

One of the principles I developed late in life has to do with travel. I don’t want to be a “zoo” traveler where you just go and look at what people are doing in other countries, then leave. Instead, I want to teach my kids to always try to have a positive impact on the places they visit, no matter how small.

So, it is with that in mind that I asked one of our contacts in Brazil, who runs educational programs with kids in favelas, if there was anything we could bring that would help him out, or just put a smile on the kids’ faces. He said they can always use sports equipment.

And thus the idea of bringing soccer balls to the kids in the favelas was born.

Now, to be clear, by “kids” I mean Afro Brazilian kids. Not because I only want to bring balls to black kids but because all the kids in the program are Afro Brazilian as most people living in favelas are Afro Brazilian (about 70%).

That comes from Brazil’s unflattering and not well publicized history.

“Brazil was the last place in the Americas to give up slavery. It also imported more than 10 times as many slaves as the U.S. — some 4 million. That’s meant that more than 50 percent of the population is of African descent, but those numbers haven’t translated to opportunity.” (NPR “Expats find Brazil’s Reputation for Color Blindness Is Undone By Reality“).

So my middle class African Canadian sons will give soccer balls to their favela-dwelling Afro Brazilian brothers and sisters.  They won’t be able to communicate with words but will connect through the universal language of the beautiful game.

Which brings me to the whole point of this post: how we’re raising the money to buy 15 soccer balls.

I’ve never done online fundraising so I went to the obvious choice for advice: Google. The first non-sponsored link was from Mashable and was, of course, irresistable: Top 12 Online Fundraising Platforms for Donors and Non-profits. After a short read, I decided on Fundrazr mainly because it said it was associated with PayPal which I use. I figured anything even remotely associated with PayPal and Tesla founder, Elon Musk, had to be easy.

I wasn’t disappointed.

I registered, set up my campaign and sent my first email blast in under an hour. And it’s getting results even though I ignored the advice to create a video that would, supposedly, double my success rate. The website gives lots of similar tips on how to optimize your campaign. (I couldn’t find a mobile app but the website is mobile friendly and looks great on my Samsung S4 phone). After the first day of the campaign we had 5 of the 15 balls. Here’s the email Fundrazr made it very easy for me to create [from the “$0 raised” you can see this is an old pic ;-)]:

Soccer ball Fundrazr

My next test is to prove what I’ve said to everyone who has asked me, “How are you going to travel with 15 soccer balls?” …clearly assuming the balls would be fully inflated as they are sold in store. To this I say, “No problem. You can deflate them.”

I’m going to test this out this weekend and, if it fails, my idea may be temporarily deflated.

Don’t believe the Zika hype

Author: Robin Browne

After the Rio Olympics, what’s the first thing you think of when you think of Brazil? I bet it’s the Zika virus.

If you believe the media reports, you’d think there are swarms of Zika laden mosquitos roaming the streets of Rio looking for pregnant women to feast on. And if you’re not a pregnant woman you’d still be nervous.

Well, what if I told you that no one has screens on their windows in Rio? Oh, and there are no mosquitos now anyway because it’s  winter. And, even if it was summer, there’s almost no chance of getting Zika in the city…

Well, that’s what our Brazilian contacts in Rio are telling us (two independent contacts).

Could this be part of the reason why study after study shows people trust “people like them” more than the media? And why the mainstream media continues to struggle? (Maybe if they stop blaming the Internet and return to the good old days of reporting actual facts, people might give them another try).

Now I’m starting to question the other big stories coming out of Brazil via mainstream media, like the shitty water story. This literally means “water full of shit” because Rio pumps its raw sewage into the water like many places do. However, on this one, one of our contacts confirmed that the bay next to where we’re staying in a part of Rio called Flamengo, is one of the places mentioned in the shitty water stories and he says, “You don’t want that water to even touch your skin.”

So, it seems the media got that one right.

It’s said that travel is one of the best forms of education. I agree and that’s part of the reason I’m taking my family to the Rio Olympics.

However, travel brings with it risks that most classroom education does not: the chance of personal injury. This is especially true in Rio. From the Zika virus to violent daytime muggings (see “Security”) to advanced cyber crime, there are many ways to get hurt in Rio – physically or financially. Add to this, the fact that an African American contact from Brooklyn, now living in Rio, says the treatment and status of blacks in Brazil is worse than in the US, and you’ve got a place where we’ll have to watch our black behinds.

So what does all this have to do with social ed? Well, it turns out that doing what we normally do when we travel internationally – putting our phones in Airplane mode the whole trip to avoid unintentional roaming fees – won’t work in Brazil. Here’s why:


Wazup Whatsapp? We’ve been told the best way to communicate in Rio is with the super popular, free instant messaging app, Whatsapp. We’ve already been using it to get invaluable intel from our contacts there in text, photo, audio and video form.

Desculpa. Nós não falam Português! We don’t speak Portuguese and most Brazilians don’t speak English (in fact, 3/4 of Brazilians are functionally illiterate according to our Rio contact). However, there will be no little phrase book with dog eared pages for us. We’ll use Google Translate! We’ll type in our question then show the translation on our phone to the person we’re asking – or play them the audio if they can’t read. (We’ll have to be as discreet as possible with this as showing our phones off in public is likely to attract banditos).


Ubertouristos – We’re staying a little ways outside Rio because it’s cheaper – and we thought: no problem, we’ll just rent a car. Well, it is a problem. Our contact strongly advised against it saying that, in all the years he’s been in Rio, he’s rented a car twice – and they were two of the most stressful things he has ever done in his life. He told us to use Uber instead. So, Uber it is, right from when we arrive.


To Air is Human – We’ll be using Airb&b for the first time and our phones will be the main way we connect with our hosts, whether it’s with Whatsapp, the Airb&b app, or just regular old email and phone calls.

So, I have one more thing to add to our Brazil “To Buy” list: cell phone covers that make our phones look as ugly as possible.