Teaching English in Uberlândia, Brazil (3)

Some students had me tutor them at their workplace. Two students were psychoanalysts (Freud is still big in Brazil, however outdated and even funky he seems to North Americans), and I also started teaching the husband of one of the psychoanalysts. Those classes took place at their office. Two students were at CTBC, the local telephone company. I taught them on different days after their work day ended. A friend who owned a couple of language schools lent me his classrooms in the afternoon for some of my classes. He said I wasn’t really any competition for him.

I worked harder than ever before and was doing fairly well, but it was a tiresome routine, and I didn’t seem to be getting ahead very fast. I kept getting unexpected bills from utilities and from other sectors. One month we were contacted by the real estate agency we rented our house from and were told that we were past due and were going to be charged a massive late fee (and I mean massive, like half-again what we usually paid in rent). Apparently they had changed our due date when we moved from one house we rented from them to another, and they didn’t bother to point it out. Yes, we could have seen the new due date, had we read the fine print on page 17 of the contract.

That was the last straw. I was done with it. That month we started the paperwork to get immigrant visas to the U.S. for my wife and step-daughter.

There are only two ways I can see an American doing well in Brazil. Either have an outside source of income (retirement funds or mission support from the U.S.) or work there on assignment for a major international company that pays in dollars or euros. Teaching English is fine, just don’t count on it to support your household or to deal with the near daily “surprises” of the Brazilian bureaucratic system.


Read the complete series:
Teaching English in Uberlândia, Brazil (1-3)

Teaching English in Uberlândia, Brazil (2)

The students where I taught English were great, for the most part. We had some fun classes, and I learned a lot about Brazilian culture, about teaching English and about the English language itself during my time at that school. Over the weeks and months I taught there I was given more and more classes as I demonstrated my ability to teach. This income kept us going, but it was still pretty tight. Sometimes people suggested I start my own school. Not only did I not have the starting capital to get something like that rolling, but I also did not trust the adverse business climate in Brazil. There are so many taxes, fees and inspectors to enforce them that small businesses have a difficult time surviving beyond their first year.

Every semester we had a week-long seminar at the school before classes resumed to hone our skills and discuss methodology. In January of 2003 we had one of these workshops, and the owner of the school insisted on leading it.

The workshop was a disaster. The owner of the school berated us for the decline in student enrollment. She admitted that part of it was probably the high cost of books (the price of the official books we had to use as part of the franchise went up dramatically every year) and increased competition. She assured us that she and other private school owners were working out agreed-upon price controls, but that they suffered from poor participation from some “disloyal competition.”

By the way, this has always perplexed me. Is there any such thing as “loyal competition”?

The school owner went on to tell us that we all needed to step up our game, because she believed English teachers in Uberlândia were overpaid (laughable, to say the least) and if the cartel came together, schools would be able to reduce salaries.

Never mind that what she was describing in the formation of a language school cartel was incredibly illegal.

Sitting through a tedious week of seemingly endless verbal assault my eyes were on the prize. We were to receive our class assignments on Friday. Having been there for nearly two years I figured that this time I would finally get a “full schedule” and be able to do more for my family.

When the time came, the manager – an American man from Iowa – handed me two schedules. Two classes. “I set aside more for you, but she had me take them away and give them to other teachers. She said she didn’t like your attitude, and if you want more classes you need to see her.”

I was furious. I hadn’t complained or made my frustration known at all the entire week, despite the hateful things that woman said to her employees.

I quit.

Some of my former students from the school asked me to teach them privately at their homes or at work. They recommended me to others, and my independent English teaching was under-way.


Read the complete series:
Teaching English in Uberlândia, Brazil (1-3)

Teaching English in Uberlândia, Brazil (1)

While I was in college, two different people told me to get a second or alternative education to “back up” my ministry education. One of those people was a trusted friend, and the other was a well-meaning but less-than-tactful elder of a “mutual ministry” Church of Christ I made contact with through the Internet. I listened to neither person, because to me “ministry” was already a career path. The only sort of concession I made was after graduating from college, when I took a distance course in teaching English as a second/foreign language.

My then-fiancee (now wife) and her family in Uberlândia all had assured me that teaching English was a very good job in Brazil, one that would be easy to obtain and which would pay relatively well. It all made sense, but it didn’t work out that well in practice.

After my wife and I were wed in January 2001 in Brazil, I began actively seeking a job with a private language school. The school I’d intended to work for had closed around the time of my move to Brazil, so that left me looking around. I went until about May or June before being called in for an interview with the owner of a school in downtown Uberlandia.

The location was great and the franchise was well-known. It all looked good. I was hired after a brief interview and given a single class to start with, early in the morning.


Read the complete series:
Teaching English in Uberlândia, Brazil (1-3)

TimesReader 2.0 Review

Newspapers are dying, but only a few appear to be making real efforts to save themselves through innovative efforts. I’m not sure how successful it will turn out to be, but the New York Times Reader is certainly a nice try.

TimesReader 2.0 is a desktop application that can run on Windows, Mac and Linux. That alone makes it impressive to me, given that they could have followed the crowd in only offering Windows and Mac versions of the application. This shows that they are at least serious about trying to get as large a subscription base as possible. By the way, I tested it on both OSX and Ubuntu 8.10 and it worked fine. As I don’t have access to a Windows box I can’t say anything about its performance there.

Yes, a “subscription base.” Although a user can have limited access to news through the TimesReader, many of the news categories can only be accessed only through having a $3.45 a week subscription, or else a traditional home delivery subscription to The New York Times.

The display is nice (click images below to view), it appears to auto-update and there is a print option, but this application seems to be devoid of any social networking options. When I read an article I like, I tend to pass it along through Twitter, and sometimes post it to my Facebook profile. There’s no option visible for this kind of action on the TimesReader 2.0, and thus gives it a sort of 1.0 feel.

Besides, does anyone see value in subscribing to anything for news? If you can still get the same content from the nytimes.com site, or similar news through a myriad of sources in Google News, why bother with the reader?


Geek Languages, Bridge Languages


When it comes to geek languages there are many options. All are constructed languages, but not all draw the same sort of crowd. The best-known of all right now appears to be Klingon, but there are other contenders. This was an appealing language for me, to be sure, but I have never been a truly hard-core Star Trek fan. I wanted something that felt more complete and to some extent universal. A language that, for however small a niche it might occupy, would always only be a language for a specific kind of geek. So, I opted for Esperanto.

It was 1996 and the Internet for popular use was still relatively new. Rummaging through different directories and search engines I learned about the different constructed languages that were out there, read up on their history and what people thought of them, and settled on Esperanto. I ordered a grammar, a dictionary and a Bible in Esperanto and signed up for a free course by mail. Language learning was new to me, though when I was a teenager I had actually worked on a few artificial languages of my own. I progressed fairly quickly with Esperanto. What was odd was that in the Fall 1996 semester I took college Spanish but ended up dropping it. I was failing and I didn’t want that on my school record.

The following year I went to Brazil for two months. My group had two weeks of Portuguese lessons in a school, together with several weeks of using the LAMP method (talking to people in stores and on the street). Frequently as I sat in class or tried out my limited Portuguese in conversations I discovered similarities between Portuguese and Esperanto. I also found that my experience with Esperanto grammar (itself very simple, it gave me the terminology and concepts of grammar) had enhanced my ability to learn.

Esperanto served as a sort of bridge language for me to learn Portuguese. Being in Brazil and hearing Portuguese only most of the time certainly helped as well. Now that I am trying to learn to program, I suspect that something similar is happening, but with programming languages.

A few months ago I set out to learn Python. I really enjoy Python and have been working on it off and on as time permits. The trouble is that the startup where I work doesn’t use Python. Ruby is the programming language of our developers. Yes, there’s JavaScript and PHP in the mix, but the core is Ruby. For however much I like Python, Ruby makes more sense. That doesn’t make the decision much easier for me.

It could be that Python will end up serving as a bridge language for me into Ruby. I’ve looked at Ruby and done some basic work in tutorials with it, and I see similarities to Python. Even the differences are recognizable and comprehensible because of my time spent on Python.

Though I certainly speak Portuguese far better than Esperanto now, I still have an affection for the latter. I’ve even been known to write blog posts on occasion in Esperanto and have more of these in the works. Even if Ruby becomes the programming language I use most, Python doesn’t have to disappear from the scene.

Ah. Again. The choice isn’t easy.

My Two Cents (Maybe Less) About Wine and the Free Software Ecosystem

Linux blogger geeks have been “abuzz” about comments made by Mark Shuttleworth in response to a question in an IRC session about Wine (click here for the chat logs). In case you don’t know, Mr. Shuttleworth is the entrepreneur who founded Canonical Ltd, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux distro. The comment in question was as follows: “…but fundamentally, the free software ecosystem needs to thrive on its own rules…it is *different* to the proprietary software universe…we need to make a success of our own platform on our own terms…Linux is just another way to run Windows apps, we can’t win…OS/2 tried that.”

Some have taken this to mean that Linux developers shouldn’t be concerned about Windows software working on their distros. The implications, were this the case, would be problematic for Ubuntu acceptance. This isn’t what I think Shuttleworth meant at all, though.

First, it is true that Linux cannot survive if it is only an alternative way to run Windows programs. If Linux can’t produce its own quality software (and it does), why not just stick with Windows?

Second, I don’t like depending on Wine. It’s nice when I need it, but not helpful if I want to run more complex Windows programs. For example, I’d like to get into World of Warcraft, but unfortunately no native Linux version of the game available. I can play it through Wine or Cedega, but there’s a bit of a hassle involved either way. While any geek worth his or her salt won’t mind a few patches and workarounds to get things going, the average user won’t appreciate the hassle. In fact, although I could follow the instructions available online to make this work, why bother? I’ve never played the game before and just think it looks cool. I’m not sure it’s worth the time and effort to set up.

For Linux to be competive there needs to be a native version of any number of games and applications out there that currently only exist for Windows and/or Mac. Not that Linux developers always have perfect control over this, mind you. In the case of World of Warcraft, Blizzard Entertainment needs to take initiative to create the game software for Linux as well as Mac and Windows. If they don’t it will simply be because they see no substantial profit to be earned in offering that option right now. Honestly, the percentage of Linux users compared to all other OS options is still pretty low.

In the meantime Wine may be the best option available, but that doesn’t mean someone shouldn’t try to make a better way to get WoW running on a Linux box.

As a whole the Linux community needs to create as much of its own software as possible, and when proprietary limitations don’t permit this, demand compatible software. The point remains valid through all of this, I believe, that Linux has to survive and even thrive on its own merits, and not based on its ability to run Windows programs.


See Also:
Wine: Can’t Live With It, Can’t Live Without It (TechNewsWorld)

Trademarking Faith


If I were to open a factory and start producing a soda with the name “Coca-Cola” without permission from “the real thing,” I would be slapped with a massive lawsuit and ordered to shut down. On the other hand, if I open a church and call it “Christian,” there will be no problem. “Christian” is a common name, one which identifies adherents of a major world religion. No one holds the trademark on the name, nor could they.

There’s some confusion among the Baha’i these days. A faction has arisen which describes itself as Orthodox. This is interesting, given that on a FAQ page of the official website of this religion we are told that Baha’i forms a single community, free of schism or factions.” The mainstream Baha’i group doesn’t want us to know about this faction, and they really don’ t want it to exist, so they are suing the “orthodox” group in court to prevent it from using the name “Baha’i” or any of it’s identifying symbols.

On that same page I referenced above, we are also told that “the Bahá’í Faith is today among the fastest-growing of the world’s religions.” This means that followers of Baha’i consider their faith a single world religion, and not merely a denomination of a religion. In other words, despite the belief in many Muslim circles that Baha’i represents an aberration and departure from Islam, we are to accept this as a major world religion.

If indeed Baha’i is a distinct religion and not a sect or denomination, then how strong can its trademark claim really be? The difference would be analogous to me either starting a Christian church and using a standard public domain cross design (or else one of my own invention) as a symbol, or starting a Presbyterian church and using the PCUSA logo without permission. Since Christianity is a major world religion, no one can really prevent me (in the United States, at least) from using its texts, common symbols and name to start a church. The same does not apply to copying the identifying traits of existing Christian sects. How can Baha’i be a “world religion” while comporting itself like a denomination at best, or a corporation at worst?

The truth of it all is that Baha’i leadership does not want to admit division and discord publicly. Such would run against its message of being a strong, harmonious and united world faith. Still, if it isn’t true, then it isn’t true.


See Also:
Baha’i rift: Baha’is upset with Orthodox Baha’i Faith (chicagotribune.com)