Thursday, 29 September 2011

Microchip operated gun shoots only from owner's hands

Mario Gazzio holding a micro chip operated gun
Mario Gazziro, shooting a prototype of his gun  (image from Folha de São Paulo)

In the film District 9 the alien “prawns” shoot weapons that work only with alien biology rendering them useless in the hands of humans. It’s a somewhat bizarre science fiction film but is apparently the inspiration for the latest research of Mario Gazzira of the Universidade de São Paulo (USP). He has developed a gun which fires only in the hands of its owner thanks to a radio detection feature similar to that used for example on the São Paulo subway system to scan passenger travel passes.

The aim is to reduce accidental and non-accidental deaths by reducing the use of guns by third parties. Here’s how it works:

(image from Folha de São Paulo)
The gun will only fire when it detects a specific and unique chip which muct be embedded in the user's finger.

 The gun has a built in sensor which enables or disables the gun depending on whether or not te radio identification is successful similar to how turnstiles work on the underground system.

For the process to work the gun owner has to undergo microsurgery, something Mario Gazzira already did approximately one year ago in order to prove the technology works.

Not sure this will significantly reduce gun crime in São Paulo but from a technological point of view it's an interesting invention.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

São Paulo hosts the Philosophy Olympics

São Paulo today hosted the Philosophy Olympics for the first time ever which reminds me of that classic Monty Python sketch.

In fact this one is real, there was pre-Olympic training in which assignments have to be prepared and the qualifiers went through to the Olympics proper. The philsopher "athletes" are all students and represent their respective schools in the competition.

Except, it's not a competition. According to the official website, "As Olimpíadas buscam um clima que pretende ser não de competição, mas de colaboração e de estímulo para o pensamento" which roughly translates as: "The Olympics aim not to create an atmosphere of competiveness rather one of collaboration and thought stimulation"

Rio must be really jealous it only got the non-cerebral international version...

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

My cheapest meal so far

Whilst much is said of the high prices in São Paulo, it's also true that there are many places to get cheap food. The cheapest place I have eaten in so far is a local restaurant on Fradique Countinho recommended by a student friend of mine who lives a few blocks away from my house.

It's a fairly discreet place with a small bar and restaurant sign on the façade. On the last page of the menu there's a R$5 (just over 2 euros/dollars) meal deal which is basically a plateful of food known locally as a "prato feito":

Here's a more visual description (the aerial shot doesn't do justice do the volume of food):

And if you don't speak portuguese here's an anatomical breakdown of the meal:


Friday, 16 September 2011

Via Quatro: São Paulo's newest metro line

The new Line 4 metro announced this week extended opening hours (04:40 to 00:00) plus a weekend service as well as some additional stations. Here are some interesting facts about the newest metro line in São Paulo:

The trains are not Brazilian
It was built by Rotem which is a South Korean company owned by the Hyundai Group. Believe it or not the trains were built in South Korea and transported by sea to Santos where they were towed to São Paulo. So whilst they are now confined to travelling 12km East or West across São Paulo ad back again they are actually well travelled trains.

It has taken over 7 years to get this far
Building had been in progress since 2004 and although operational operational there are still stations yet to be opened.

Maximum capacity is staggeringly high
It is expected to carry up to 970,000 different passengers daily once it is running at full capacity. The trains carry 25% more passengers than any of the other trains on the other metro lines.

Engineering accidents have characterized the building work
There were no less than 10 major engineering accidents during construction, the most severe being the collapse of the site at Pinheiros causing an 80m crater. The consortium in charge denied there were any casualties and this is why despite the insistence of the families whose houses and cars fell into the crater it took 4 days to find the first victim and 13 days the last one. 7 people died. The Consortium later denied any engineering malpractice and attributed the accident to “fortes chuvas” (heavy rainfall)

The trains have no drivers
Line 4 users driverless technology meaning the trains are operated remotely from a control station and there is no human being onboard the train who can control its movement. These are the first driverless trains in Latin America.

And here is the official ad for the new line:

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Brazilian football referees using temporary spray paint

Those of you who are football fans will appreciate how frustrating it is to watch opposition players move the ball closer to goal or at a better angle the second the referee turns his back on a free kick given against your team. And yet the solution is simple and over here it is already being used to great success. It goes like this:

The referee is given a lightweight can of temporary spray paint. When a free kick is awarded within range of goal he marks the exact spot by spraying the grass with paint. He can then walk away knowing the players can´t change the free kick position. After a few minutes the paint disappears and the game continues.

Vanishing spray being applied

It’s been around for years and I’m told across the border in Argentina they even use it to stop the wall moving forwards on freekicks (also a very annoying practice) and it works well so the question is: why do we not have this in European leagues?!

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Extreme traffic congestion in São Paulo

I recently missed a flight from São Paulo to Madrid despite setting out for the airport three and a half hours ahead of time. This is what my Google Maps Navigation app was telling me as I tried to guide the taxi through the least congested routes:

You can see that Marginal Tietê (horizontal road at the top of the screencap) was not the best place to be at that time (neither was Avenida Veinte Tres de Maio or any of the main traffic arteries for that matter). This is quite normal though and at 18:50 on a weekday it's especially bad.

The fact that it's so normalised is interesting because it starts to change drivers' behaviours. Veja Magazine recently asked Paulistanos to tweet what they do in their cars when sitting out the traffic and the responses included:

I read books
I cut my nails
I kiss my partner
I sing
and of course quite a few people said they tweeted

But the one that stole the show for me was a girl who said that there was no single answer and that she did whatever she would normally be doing at the time, her example was that if it was lunch time, then so be it, lunch it was, and she would eat in the car.

It reminds me of the answer I always give to Brazilian friends when they ask what we do back home in the UK where it rains so often. Well we do whatever we were planning to do, I tell them. Perhaps human ability to accept and adapt depends on the extremity and permanence of the situation which might be why Brits have a thing called road rage and Brazilians stay at home when it rains...

Monday, 12 September 2011

Over the counter hangover pills

With brand names as hedonistic sounding as "Enjoy" and warnings of "For adult use only" you could be forgiven for being suprised that these sachets only contain regular white pills to be taken with a glass of water. "Why the name and the adult warning?", I hear you ask. Well the symptom "ressaca" which is written on the packet is portuguese for hangover and these are actually hangover pills to be consumed before and/or after excessive alcohol intake.

Personally I think they're a great invention and I'm surprised I haven't seen them elsewhere in other countries. You take one pill before going out and one after. This does entail some practical difficulties in that you need to be able to a) predict your excesses before they actually occur and b) not be in too precarious a state so as not to affect you remembering you need to take the second pill when you get back home!

Still, it's a great invention and it's available over the counter at any pharmacy. The leading brand is Engov although I prefer the more descriptive brand names such as enjoy (above) or Posdrink (below)

The name changes but the pills all have the same composition:

maleato de mepiramina (DCB 5652) ............................ 15,0 mg
hidróxido de alumínio (DCB 4694) .............................. 150,0 mg
ácido acetilsalicílico (DCB 0089) ................................. 150,0 mg
cafeína (DCB 1642) ..................................................... 50,0 mg

So correct meif I'm wrong all you chemists / medics but you are basically being given an analgesic, a anti-histamine and a shot of caffeine (in exchange for a hangover)

Friday, 9 September 2011

Make sure the elevator is there before you get in aka State Law 9502/97

The Federal states system means each Brazilian state, in this case the São Paulo state government, has specific laws and regulations. Often they're very specific, in fact there seems to be a state law to cover just about everything.

My favourite is State Law Nº 9502/97 on elevators. It basically says that all elevators installed in buildings in São Paulo must warn the user to check that the elevator is actually there before getting in:

I would have thought this would be common sense and by in large unnecessary but perhaps they got wind of the winner of the 2010 Darwin award and decided to legislate...

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Cute Words in Brazilian Portuguese Part 3

"Para inglês ver" means for the English, or Englishman to see and it's used, quite frequently, in Brazilian Portuguese to describe something that is just for show. I found this quite a funny expression and was curious to find out if there was an interesting etymology behind it, and indeed there is:

Back in 1831 the Brazilian goverment came under pressure from England to abolish slavery. At the time England exerted influence on Brazil due to manufacturing, trade and financial dependence. Bowing to the pressure then, a new law was introduced which would severly fine importers of slaves and which made slaves free upon arrival on Brazilian shores. 

However most people including the deputies in parliament did not believe the law was enforceable and didn't think it would be effective and it would be only for the English, or Englishman to see. Therein was born the expression para o inglês ver.

In fact as predicted Brazilian slavery continued despite the change and until a new law was passed some twenty years later in 1852. 
See other cute words entries here:

Monday, 5 September 2011

International Brand Adaptations - Pizza Hut & Twix

The concept of sweet pizza was completely unknown to me before I arrived in São Paulo. Hawaian flavour was about as wacky as I had ever heard of and I certainly didn't expect strawberries or chocolate to be making an appearance on my pizza! But sweet pizzas are all the rage here so when you're done with your savoury ones you finish off with sweet ones. I know it sounds like a heavy duty meal and it is heavy duty but most meals are round here.

When Pizza Hut opened their Brazilian pizzerias they must have had the same surprise and they have adapted very well, offering all sort of sweet pizzas. This year they launched a winter special in partnership with Twix. I guess you know what's coming next! Yes, Twix Pizza!

Here's a rundown of the Twix/Pizzahut oferings:

Twix Breadsticks
Breadstick with a Twix stuffed inside for R$ 12,90
Twix Pizza
Self explanatory really and available for R$ 12,90
Twix Split
Twix / Ice cream and chocolate R$ 18,90

Oh and the deal struck with Mars includes M&Ms so they have an M&M Pizza too! I presume it's only a matter of time before Skittles and Starbursts make an appearance. Then again they have to draw the line somewhere, after all Whiskas is also owned by Mars...

See also:
International brand adaptations: Smirnoff
International brand adaptations: Zara, Burger King and Brasilwagen
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