A Report on Startup Brasil

It surprised me that the first English-language video report I’d come across online (without actively looking for it) about the “Startup Brasil” program came from China Central Television (CCTV). In any case, it’s a nice summary of how in part of the program, entrepreneurs are brought to Silicon Valley in the U.S. to learn about startup culture and strategy. One point highlighted in the report is how failure is still frowned upon in Brazil, which is an attitude detrimental to encouraging a positive environment for startups. What I did not see was commentary on how Brazil’s existing legislation, tax structure and bureaucracy create extremely adverse conditions for small, innovative companies.

http://player.cntv.cn/standard/cntvOutSidePlayer.swf


See also:

Brazil’s Mega Projects

For some time I’ve hoped to see an analysis of Brazil’s infrastructure projects in preparation for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic. Finally one came into my hands the other day in the print edition of the September 2013 PM Network magazine. There’s a nice, albeit brief, article entitled “World-Weary.” Unfortunately, there is no online version of the article freely available to the public. If you aren’t a member of PMI, you aren’t intended to see it.

That said, I’d like to share a few choice quotes, with comments. The unattributed item was part of the body of the article itself, rather than an interviewed party.

“We’ve had six years to complete these projects, but those in the political sphere couldn’t make decisions. It wasn’t a problem of labor shortages or resources. It was a problem of stakeholder management.” – Farhad Abdollahyan, PMI-RMP, PMP, Fundação Getúlio Vargas, São Paulo, Brazil

This is one of the things I love about project management in general, and PMI/PMP in particular. There’s a common understanding, a shared vocabulary to understand and express project-related issues. If it can be categorized, it can be managed…or at least explained coherently. In this case, major stadium building and renovation projects could have been done more swiftly, but due to political issues there was a drag on the schedule. Those politicians were one set of stakeholders to be managed.

“The added effort may bring stadium projects in on time – but likely not on budget. Despite late starts and strikes, the 12 stadiums built or renovated for the World Cup were on schedule by April 2012. But they were also three times over budget. The stadiums’ cost currently stands at BRL7 billion – and that’s mostly public money, despite promises of private investment.”

Where I work, in online projects, each project has a budget that is set in a project brief. That is to say, the total amount available for the project is made known. If $30,000 are available, that’s it. There’s really no running over the available budget. Public projects of a highly visible and critical nature often don’t have this limitation. I suspect that knowing leeway exists causes it to be disrespected. In any case, going three times over budget is ridiculous.

“The sad part is that most projects that would really benefit Brazilian citizens – like many of the bus rapid-transit projects – have not even started or have been canceled.” – Rommel N. Carvalho, PhD, PMP, Universidade de Brasília, Brasília, Brazil.

The massive, nationwide protests of June this year in Brazil came about because of a combination of factors. Rising city bus fare was one issue, but many were out protesting the massive investment of public funds in mega events, while the nation’s public schools go without teachers and resources, and the system of public hospitals crumbles for lack of doctors and equipment. Some argued to the contrary, saying that there could be no comparison of the mega events with government investments in education and healthcare. Here, though, is one clear connection and failure. By dropping or failing to initiate mass transit projects that were for the benefit of the mega events, Brazilians are losing out on one big benefit they’d gain from hosting the events. The idea was that the government would be compelled to provide quality public transportation, building new systems and renovating the old ones. It seems, though, that this will not be.

I’d love to see more in-depth research and commentary on massive infrastructure projects in Brazil, from a qualified project management perspective. It makes for fascinating reading, and certainly some worthwhile case studies could come from it all.


See also:
The Vinegar Revolt
Will The Giant Be Lulled Back To Sleep?

My Weight Loss Strategy

For the first time in my life, I’m dieting. I’ve lost weight before when I started working in New York City and walking became more a part of my daily commute, but that wasn’t intentional weight loss. The idea to slim down actually had been in the back of my mind for some time, but was brought to the fore on the last day of my church’s men’s retreat in early August. A challenge was laid before the men to set goals, weigh in regularly and lose weight. For each pound we lose toward our goals, we or our sponsors will contribute $10 to the work of HOPE worldwide in caring for the poor. My starting weight was 208. This morning my bathroom scale told me I’m at 186. Not bad for slightly over a month of effort. So, what’s my secret?

In conversations with friends about my diet, I’m often asked what I’m doing to lose the weight. It’s clear that they aren’t always just making polite conversation. They are often looking for solutions for themselves. I’m always more than glad to give them my weight loss formula, and I’ll give it to you here as well.

Diet + Exercise = Weight Loss

Now you’re disappointed, right? You were perhaps hoping there was some special eating plan, key foods to avoid or consume more, or something similar. Sorry, none of that from me.

My diet consists of simply being certain that I keep my daily calorie intake at 1500 or below. I don’t worry much about calories from fat. I’m mainly interested in the total calorie count. I went through school long before the food pyramid or whatever the government promotes now in the way of nutrition, so I think in terms of the four basic food groups: Grains, Dairy, Meat and Fruits/Vegetables. Based on that, I make certain my daily diet is balanced despite the caloric limitation. Beyond that, I’d really rather not go into specifics about what I eat on an average day, as it would distract from the overall point: consume fewer calories!

One challenge to limiting calories regards beverages. How many calories do you drink? It does little good to eat a 400 calorie lunch, but then guzzle 300 or more calories in soft drinks. For the first three weeks of my weight loss efforts, I drank only water. In the first week I lost 8 pounds! I’m sure part of that was loss of water weight, since my sodium consumption has naturally gone down, but I also believe that it’s because I stopped consuming sugary drinks. I did not, however, go off of caffeine entirely. During those weeks I took broken up pieces of over-the-counter caffeine pills every few hours. Lecture me if you want. It worked. Now I enjoy Pepsi Max, Pepsi One and, especially, Cherry Coke Zero. All have fewer than 5 calories and so are permitted in the US to market themselves as no-calorie options. Even if there are a few calories in there, they hardly compare to the hundreds of calories in regular soft drinks.

Sometimes you’ll want to eat out. Subway has become my friend. They have an online sandwich nutrition calculator you can use (just click a sandwich style and look for the “calculate” button in the page that opens), and I planned out four sandwiches under 400 calories that I can eat. I also found that the Cantina Bowl at Taco Bell has under 600, making it acceptable for occasional eating. The veggie burger at Burger King has under 500 calories, but I don’t think most people would find it very filling on its own.

I’m also not a complete fanatic about my diet. A few weeks ago I went to enjoy a Labor Day cookout with friends. I ate a plate of food, drank regular soda and downed a large piece of white sheet cake (love the stuff!). That’s okay. It was a break from my routine, and right after I was back on my diet restrictions. No harm done.

As for exercise, I’m only doing a modest about of jogging (at 5am every day, including weekends) along with a daily session of sit-ups and push-ups. Aside from that, I walk a fair amount during my commute. If you tend to drive everywhere, you might consider walking to places in your neighborhood instead of getting behind the wheel.

Having said all this, let me give one alert. My diet is not for everyone. I’m under 40, am male and have no chronic health issues. If your situation is different, you should consult a doctor before making any drastic changes in your lifestyle. That said, don’t let going to a doctor stop you! Get checked out, make  a plan and stick with it. It’s worth it.

The Eyes of Darkness

Over a decade ago, when I first made my home in Brazil, I gave fantasy fanfiction writing a try. Although I enjoyed the experience, I found that I’m not an excellent fiction writer, and I lack the detailed knowledge of medieval-style weaponry that helps in writing this sort of story.

My stories were originally posted on a site I maintained via Tripod, and I’ve reposted one of the stories, Hag’s Hovel, a couple of times since then on this blog. As it appears that I never posted “The Eyes of Darkness” here, I present it now for whatever it’s worth.

Note that at the time of writing, Stephan Michael Sechi was the rights-holder to The Atlantean Trilogy RPG system, and gave express written consent via email to me to write the fanfiction.

Based on The Atlantean Trilogy fantasy RPG system, copyrights held by Stephan Michael Sechi.

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this short story are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental. 

Copyright 2002 Adam W. Gonnerman


The eyes betrayed her.  Pointed ears and ashy-gray skin were the only other features that set her apart from humanity, and they could easily have left her classified as one of some unknown race of elves.  True, she was somewhat more muscular than the average human girl her age, and unsettlingly grim-face.  This latter characteristic seemed native to her, not the result of a hard life.            

Indeed, life up to this point had been anything but easy, and this moment she now faced was one whose arrival she had both expected and dreaded since early childhood.  She had learned too much too soon about the harsher realities of the world.  Sweaty black hair clinging to her face, neck and upper back, the fierce adolescent confronted the man she believed would rape her, if he could.            

Though armed, a battle-axe at his side and the hilt of a two-handed sword showing over his right shoulder, his hands were empty and half closed in front of him, as though he would grab her at first chance.  Human, his beard was short and scraggly.  His face was weathered and creased, like old leather.  Days and nights out-of-doors and exposed to the elements evidenced themselves in his rugged visage.  The armor he wore was of studded leather, and his small metal shield, replete with gashes from numerous battles, bore a crude design of a warthog.  In the darkness, colors and further details were impossible to make out.            

Realizing too late her mistake in entering this dead-end alley, she had hoped to elude the one she’d noticed tailing her only a couple of blocks back.  Seeing him now up close, she vaguely recognized him as having been one of the patrons at the Lame Pig.  Working in the tavern’s kitchen since she was nine, she had been sent out among the rowdy, thieving outcasts that frequented the establishment to work as one of the bouncers when her developing body made her too clumsy to remain in the narrow cooking area.            

Proving herself big enough and strong enough on more occasions than she could remember, new challengers were never lacking at the seaport pub.  Unusual though it was for a woman – in fact, a mere girl – to help provide security for a bar, she did her share along with Frothos to maintain order and break up bar fights.  Ordinarily, the big fellow would be accompanying her to the hostel they called home, but this was payday, and he had a favorite call girl he wanted to find.           

 “It’s your eyes that drew me,” the man suddenly declared in a low tone.  “I’ve seen those eyes in hundreds I’ve slain.”            

Yanamari remained silent, pulling out her mace and making ready for the fight.  Hadn’t he said it outright?  He’d killed others, like her.  The message seemed clear.            

“Was it your papa, or your mama?”  In the half-light of the full greater moon she thought she could make out a sneer.  She remained mute, scanning for weaknesses.  Still, the question cut her somehow.            

“Can’t speak?”  His Sanadarian was heavily accented, yet she couldn’t identify his nationality.  “Why don’t you come with me?”            

Provoked, Yanamari broke her silence.  “What do you want?  I have no interest in you.”  Her voice cracked as she spoke, causing her to wince.  She couldn’t show fear, not now.            

“But I have an interest in you.  Your eyes are likely not your only mystery, eh dear?”            

“Go find a prostitute.  She’ll give you what you want, and has eyes more interesting than mine, I’m sure.”             

“You mistake me, I don’t want a whore.  I want a companion.”            

She laughed despite herself.  “A companion?  You’re drunk, asking me for marriage!”            

The man drew a little nearer, lowering his hands slightly.  “Not marriage either, precious, but almost as good.  You come with me, and I free you of this place.  No more Lame Goat….”            

“Lame Pig,” she corrected.            

“…no more drunks trying to grab your ass, no more Port Regna.  Come with me, and I teach you my trade.”            

“Your trade?  What trade could you ply that would interest me?”  She mocked, but inwardly, she was intrigued.             

“Bounty.”            

“What?”            

“Bounty.  I am Gilreth the Brazen, known far and wide for my ability to hunt down my prey.”  As he spoke, he opened wide his arms before returning to a crouched position, now with his hands on his knees.  “You come with me, and I teach you to track, to hunt, to waylay or kill.  The gold is good, real good.  My last bounty brought in more than you’ll see in a thousand days of bashing heads.”            

She shook her head and waved her mace slightly from side-to-side.  “So what do you get out of this?”            

“Companionship.”            

“And what does that mean, exactly?”            

“It means you come with me, you travel with me, you learn with me, you bed with me….”            

“Of course!  Men are the same the world over!  I’ve seen pirates and thieves, warriors and warlocks, and the story is always the same.  It ends in the bed.  You think you’re going to fool me into staying with you this night, you think I’m a stupid, gullible girl who’ll gladly skip off to some inn with you, but I tell you I’d sooner cut off your manhood and throw it in the harbor before I’d let your greasy hands touch me!”            

“Yet again, you misunderstand me.  And I have such a disadvantage.  The eyes are portals to the depths of one’s being – or so an old mage once told me – but yours are impossible for me – or any man – to read.”            

“My eyes again!  You say you’ve killed others like me, and you expect me to travel with you?”            

“Like you?  Never!  In my youth I slew scores of goblins, large and small.  When my infantry days were over and since my bounty hunting days began, I’ve had occasion from time to time to eliminate a goblin that was in my way.  But never did I bring low one such as you.”            

Defiant, she declared, “I’m no goblin!”            

Wordless moments passed.  Yanamari was bent forward slightly, mace before her, expecting the assault to begin at any moment.  She figured there was no way that this tenacious man would merely give up.  Unexpectedly, Gilreth began to chuckle and slowly arose from his crouched position.  He asked, “Do you even know what  you are?”            

The question stung, biting with the force of years of mockery, insults and insinuations.  “Goblin-girl,” they called her when she was very small.  Never having seen a goblin, she always hated the name and knew it was meant to hurt her.  A little older now, she’d still never seen a goblin, but had heard plenty of descriptions and understood its loathsome nature.             

The bounty hunter leaned forward slightly, shaking his hands at her, and asked “Who was your mother?”            

“A common whore!  Understand?  She was a prostitute!” she yelled bitterly, her voice carrying and echoing down the alley and out into the vacant streets.            

“Human?”            

Holding back tears and feeling rage swelling uncontrollably within, she practically growled, “Of course!”             

“Then it was your father!”            

Resisting no longer, Yanamari swung out and caught Gilreth off-guard, bashing him in the left shoulder with her mace.  He bellowed in outrage and pain.  ”You are  a stupid girl, if you think you can best me in single combat!”            

Gilreth was right-handed, and Yanamari had hit him in the left shoulder.  Too late, she realized her error.  He reached behind his back, and from somewhere pulled out a blackjack.  Without a word, he advanced.            

Yanamari drew back, raising her mace defensively as the bounty hunter stepped quickly to her left.  This was only a feint, Gilreth dodging right at what seemed an impossible speed for a man of his size and weight, swinging the blackjack at Yanamari’s head.            

Her world went dark in a painful reddish flash.Coming to, daylight making the searing pain in her head even more acute, she realized that at least a few hours had passed, if not more.  Opening her eyes and raising up too swiftly, her head swam and nausea overcame her.  Twisting to the side, she vomited violently.“My dear, being waylaid doesn’t seem to agree with you.”            

The voice was Gilreth’s, “the Brazen.”  Her heart sank as she realized he had taken her prisoner.         

“Why don’t you leave me be?  I want nothing of you!” she choked.            

“None of this would have happened, if you hadn’t so foolishly attacked me.”            

“Attacked you?  

You’re  the one who stalked me from the port to my neighborhood.  

You’re  the one who chased me into an alley!”            

“And you, precious, took the first swing.”            

The nausea had passed, and the agony in her skull had turned to a dull but terrible ache.  Finally, finding strength and words, she said, “I’ve never bedded with anyone, and I’ve no interest in you!  Try what you might, but you will  suffer.”            

“No doubt,” he smiled.  “But my intention is for you to come along willingly.”            

With a forced laugh, she tried to stand up.  Everything seemed to spin for a moment, and she sat back down heavily.            

“Your head’s injured.  Wouldn’t be a good idea to stand up right away.”            

Making a show of ignoring him, she tried to take in her surroundings.  Slowly turning her head, she squinted in the bright light of day that came flooding in through a window next to the crude cot she was lying on.  The room was simple, unadorned to the point of crudeness.  The only furnishings were low table with a washbasin, the cot she was in, the stool on which Gilreth sat and a latrine bucket to the side of the bed.  A small rat in the corner sat on its haunches, sniffing the air and apparently contemplating the two larger occupants.  The surroundings were somewhat familiar, those of a tavern like the one where she worked.            

“Rented a room?”            

Grinning, “Just for a few hours.  Told ‘em you were sleeping off a drunk when we came in.”  Considering her for a moment, he picked up his backpack and opened it, rummaging around for minute. “The bashed head is your own fault, but I have something here that’ll help dull the pain.”            

“Don’t want anything of yours,” Yanamari mumbled.            

Pulling out a small red flask with a rounded bottom, he held it out for her to see.            

“Not even if it cuts the pain?”            

“If I take it, you’ll say I owe you.  I don’t owe anything to filth.”            

“This one’s on the house.  The next one would cost you,” he said, almost sounding cheerful.            

Yanamari laid back, but again the sun burned her eyes and aggravated her headache.  Groaning, she brought her arm up over her face to shield her.            

“It’s the eyes,” began Gilreth.  “You probably don’t go out much by day, do you?”            

No response.  Yanamari felt too weak even to argue, and was sick to death of this subject.             

“I’ll leave the potion here, next to the cot,” she heard him say.  “You need water.  I’ll be right back.”  Footsteps, and the door opened and closed.            

What luck, she thought.  Grabbing up the potion, then waiting for the wooziness to pass, she yanked out the cork with her teeth.  The bittersweet smell of the contents almost making her feel nauseated again, Yanamari briefly considered the possibility that it was poison.  Dismissing it as impossible, since he could have easily killed her earlier, she downed the thick liquid in one gulp and turned to escape through the window.            

At first, she felt lightheaded.  Figuring that this was an effect of the medicine, Yanamari continued to investigate the window, looking for a way to shimmy down to the busy street below.  The pain in her head, she realized, was not subsiding.            

Behind her, the door to the room opened and a confident voice called out, “Gilreth the Brazen would miss you, my dear.”            

At the sound of that name, a strange feeling overtook Yanamari.  Looking toward the door, she remembered the intrigue she had felt earlier at this man’s offer.  Gilreth, framed in the door with a metal water pitcher in his hand, stood smiling broadly at her.  

What an incredible smile, the girl thought.  

How kind of him to get water for me, and how generous to invite me along with him…and I’ve treated him so badly.  

This latter thought created an anguish so great that she wanted to cry.            

“Now, now, no need for sadness.  Gilreth is here.  Does your head still hurt?”            

Looking into the eyes of the man she now loved so dearly, so completely, she nodded.            

“Then, here’s another potion that will finish the job.”            

Pulling another, oblong blue flask from his pack, he handed it to Yanamari.  Unquestioningly, she pulled out the cork and drank it down.  This time a soothing coolness came over her, and the soreness in her head and body seemed washed away.            

Offering her water, she drank from the pitcher, not taking her eyes off of Gilreth, her beloved.            

“Will you come with me now?”            

Overwhelmed with emotion, Yanamari could only nod eagerly.            

“Your eyes betray you, darkling.  Black with white pupils.  What it must be like to be a netherman’s daughter…of goblin stock.  You travel with me now, beginning this day.”

Wineskins Needs a Reboot

In the late 1990s, one of my favorite magazines was New Wineskins. A publication representing a more “progressive” line of thought within a cappella Churches of Christ, it resonated well with me at that point in my life. I was new to the Christian Churches/Churches of Christ/Disciples of Christ movement at that time, and this magazine was like a breath of fresh air. Some time later it became digital-only, and after a while online publication ended as well. A couple of years ago, administration of the site was transferred to Keith Brenton. A brief revival of the online periodical was enjoyed under Keith’s editorship, and I even got a couple of articles in. With the passing of his wife, Keith has recently handed the site off to others.

So now an attempt is being made to “reboot” the magazine. A site redesign and social media renewal is underway, and funds are being requested to help make this a reality A total of $5000 is the estimated need to run the site for one year, with no salary going to any of the three who form the leadership team.

This is definitely a worthy cause, so if you are a member of a Church of Christ or Christian Church and would like to help keep this important voice alive in our fellowship, consider making a contribution.

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The ITIL Foundation Exam

A little over a year ago a couple of co-workers at Condé Nast took an ITIL Foundation course and subsequently passed the exam. I wasn’t able to take advantage of this course offered through a supervisor’s connection because I was on vacation in Brazil, but yesterday I took the test after a couple of weeks of self-study. I’m glad to say I passed.

Here are a few observations about taking the ITIL Foundations exam.

First, the ITIL Foundation exam is not terribly difficult. It is nowhere near as challenging as the PMP exam, coming it at just 40 multiple choice questions. 60 minutes are allotted to take the test, and I completed it in 30. In reality, I had answered all questions in just over 10 minutes. The additional 20 minutes were review before hitting “end.”

Second, study. I know that seems like strange advice, given my first point above. This test was not difficult, but it was also not a no-brainer. Common sense won’t get you through. Someone told me months ago that anyone who’s been working in IT for several years can pass it without studying. I don’t think that’s advisable to attempt. The terminology is familiar, but the usage can at times be unique to ITIL. A good understanding of the processes and their interconnections is also needed. I spent about two weeks studying before I took the test.

Third, for self-study preparation, I recommend “Foundations of IT Service Management” by Brady Orland. This book isn’t perfect, but don’t waste money on any other study material. The author attempted to incorporate the story of a fictional restaurant company, Geppetto Garcia, to make the content more digestible. It works…sort of. Geppetto comes on strong in the beginning, makes a few appearances throughout the book and by the end simply disappears. It makes for an odd reading experience, as if an attempt to tell a story was made, and then simply dropped. In any case, the book does cover everything you’ll need to know for the test, so it’s worth it. One warning: in the section called “Getting Started,” under “Service Transition,” no mention is made of the Transition Planning and Support process even though the other four processes are discussed. Later in the chapter on Service Transition this process is explained. If you are making study/flash cards, don’t base your notes on the stages and processes off of the “Getting Started” chapter.

At this point I now am a Certified ScrumMaster (CSM), Project Management Professional (PMP) and have the ITIL Foundation certification. Next up in my professional improvement plan is CompTIA Project+ certification. Looking forward to it!