Free Calling from Brazil to the United States

In the past it was quite a hassle to call Brazil, and even worse trying to call the United States from Brazil. When I was dating my wife I had to buy phone card after phone card to keep in touch with her. It was a big investment. Once I was in Brazil I had to monitor closely my time from a landline to ensure I didn’t get a huge bill the next month just for calling my parents. There were “callback” services available, but these were often frustrating to use. Things are so much simpler now.

If Skype and other video chat isn’t enough, or the person you’re trying to contact isn’t terribly tech savvy, there are other options. Viber, for example, recently opened up free, unlimited calling from Brazil to landline phones in the United States. Here’s the announcement from Viber’s CEO:

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.jsThere is a condition, though. In order for this promotion to continue, Viber needs to see 25% growth in messaging using its service in Brazil. I’m fairly certain from what I’ve read that’s 25% weekly growth. Why is Viber doing this? One word: WhatsApp.

Every single English student I have under the age of 20 is using WhatsApp. Instagram and Facebook are still popular with teenagers in Brazil, but WhatsApp is clearly their messaging service of choice. They use it for groups of friends and classmates, and to communicate individually. My daughter uses the audio option to record brief messages and send to friends in the United States, to which they respond in the same way. It ends up working like a really long-range walkie-talkie.

My experience calling my mom via Viber was good. Call quality was acceptable, but the call dropped every 10 minutes, as though it were planned. Here in Uberlândia we use Algar Telecom (formerly CTBC) for our landline and residential Internet service. I’ve discovered that direct calling from our landline to my mother’s house in Missouri costs less than 10 US cents per minute. Still, free is better.


See Also: 
Viber libera ligação gratuita do Brasil para fixos e celulares dos EUA (MeioBit)

That’s Humanism

The British Humanist Association (BHA) has launched a campaign promoting Humanism, all of which I have included below. The BHA has taken a more strongly anti-theistic approach than its North American counterpart, the American Humanist Association, and I think that comes through in this campaign. The “some people think” approach reminds me too much of a fundamentalist preacher I know who says that exact same phrase in every sermon. His conclusion is always that those “some people” are hell-bound for not sharing his beliefs.

It would be nice to see a little more positive look at human values and a softer “non-theism.” At the same time, it’s definitely an informative series of videos, providing a worthwhile thumbnail sketch of key ideas in the Humanist lifestance. Be sure to watch all four below.

How do we know what is true?

What should we think about death?
What makes something right or wrong?

How can I be happy?

See Also:
Books for Understanding Humanism
The Manifestos of Humanism
Nontheists and Their Gatherings

Brazil’s Children: Traded Innocence

Like most bloggers, I keep an eye on the traffic coming onto my site. It’s interesting to see where people are located, what search terms or other sites they use to get here, and what interests them. Unfortunately, the search strings I see often leave me wonder about motives. Every time I see “underage sex brazil” I wonder if it’s someone doing legitimate research, or someone looking for ideas. Still, I feel a need to share this grim reality experienced by many in Brazil. 
With the upcoming World Cup in Brazil a lot of attention is being paid by the government to the situation of human trafficking and especially commercial sexual exploitation of children. These are ongoing, serious social problems in Brazil, but now that the spotlight is on Brazil there’s more of a push than ever to clean things up. I wonder if, once the mega events of World Cup and Olympics pass, we’ll just be back to business as usual. 
The title of this post is taken from the report below from Sky News. A journalist went into some pretty dangerous parts of Recife in order to report on the sex trade and drug use involving teens and younger children. This is a dark reality to face, but there are people working for the good of the Brazilian children. Apart from the government’s campaign, many non-profits have been working in this country to give young people a new trajectory in life. At the bottom of this post you’ll find links to other posts I’ve written about this topic, including a book review and other documentaries, as well as links to charities fighting for Brazil’s children. Be sure to watch the report then follow up with the links.

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Non-Profits:

Brazil’s Internet Bill of Rights

Since 2009 a bill has been in the works to guarantee certain online rights in Brazil. This week it passed the Chamber of Deputies, Brazil’s lower legislative house, and is now on its way to the Senate. Called the “Marco Civil da Internet” (Internet Bill of Rights), it seeks to establish clear rules and guidelines, especially to project users. The following summary is taken from infojustice.org’s summary of key points of this legislation:

Data retention

Brazil was dangerously close to establishing a period of 5 years of mandatory data retention before discussions on Marco Civil began. Unfortunately, the bill still has provisions to that effect, but the period is much shorter for ISPs providing connectivity services (1 year).

Net neutrality Brazil has taken a major step forward in preserving net neutrality, following the example set by countries such as Chile and the Netherlands. Marco Civil establishes the general principle that net neutrality should be guaranteed, and further regulated by a presidential decree, with inputs from both the Brazilian Internet Steering Committee (CGI.br) and ANATEL, the national telecommunications agency.

Intermediary liability One of the main provisions of Marco Civil deals with the difficult subject of intermediary liability due to content uploaded by third parties. The system in Marco Civil establishes that intermediaries can only be held liable if they do not comply with a court order explicitly demanding content to be removed. This regime, however, is not applicable to copyright infringement, which will be dealt with by the forthcoming copyright reform bill.

Privacy After the Snowden leaks, a small number of privacy provisions were included in Marco Civil (the main privacy and data protection bill under development has yet to be sent to Congress). The main proposal was extremely controversial: forcing Internet companies to host data pertaining to Brazilian nations within Brazilian territory. Broadly rejected by civil society, engineers, companies, and several legislators, the proposal was dropped by the government so that voting could take place.

Rights and principles Marco Civil establishes a strong, forward-looking assertion of rights and principles for Internet regulation in Brazil: freedom of expression, interoperability, the use of open standards and technology, protection of personal data, accessibility, multistakeholder governance, open government data.

In my opinion, the Marco Civil is a significantly positive step for Brazil. I’ve long been concerned about the aforementioned main points, and in particular have been annoyed at “intermediary liability.” There’s no way it makes sense to hold Facebook, Google or any other online company liable for user-generated content. At the same time, it would be nice to see Brazil back off on the censorship that occurs when someone famous is ridiculed online. Offense to a person’s “honor” is prohibited in Brazil and stifles free expression.

It’s also good that the requirement for companies with offices in Brazil to host data here was dropped. This onerous requirement would have deterred foreign expansion into the Brazilian market as well as likely prove detrimental to homegrown start-ups.

The bill now goes to the Federal Senate, and from there it will return to the lower house for a final approval before going to President Dilma Rousseff to be signed into law. It’s been a long time coming, but it looks like the Marco Civil will soon be reality.


See Also:
The complete text of the Internet Bill of Rights, in Portuguese.
Brazilian Chamber of Deputies Approves Marco Civil Bill (infojustice.org)
World Wide Web founder supports Brazil’s “Internet Constitution” (ZDNet)

Porto (un)Happy

Porto Alegre” could be translated “Happy Harbor.” Some residents there are unhappy about the mess their city finds itself in with incomplete and severely delayed construction projects. The World Cup is coming soon and things aren’t looking great.
The negative comment I’ve seen most frequently about this video is that “the middle class waited 8 years to complain” and now it’s too late. That’s one way of interpreting it. Another is that people were trying to be patient but now are fed up. I find the video amusing, in any case.

More Work Training Opportunities Coming Soon to Uberlândia

According to Uberlândia’s Jornal Correio newspaper, technical courses in work safety, computation and human resources will soon be offered through the Education Foundation for Minas Gerais Labor (Utramig). The first unit of this initiative opened this past Monday, 24 March, in the Santa Rosa neighborhood. 270 seats are available, of which 120 will be for courses with monthly fees between R$180 and R$254. The other 150 seats will be offered through the National Access to Technical and Work Learning Program (Pronatec) with the monthly fees and educational material paid by the federal government. Enrollment opens at the end of April, and classes are set to begin in May. 
To me, this is just one more indication of both the commitment of Uberlândia to promoting education, and of the opportunities that this city is and will present to those looking for a tech center in Brazil. work safety and human resources courses are generally beneficial to business and industry looking for qualified workers, and the computation course is also a step in the right direction. 
At the same time, I would really like to see a greater initiative to promote more advanced computer science, software/web development and system administration instruction. If this city is truly to advance, we need high skill workers who are able to think and work outside the box.
According to Utramig’s president, José Murilo Resende, Uberlândia was chosen to receive a unit of the foundation because of specific characteristics of this city: “It’s a great city, one that attracts new companies and has a great demand for qualified workers.” This city does indeed attract both new business as well as new residents from the surrounding, smaller cities and rural areas. One the one hand there are businesses looking for skilled workers, and on the other there are people looking for opportunities. Again, though, I don’t see the path forward being carved out by doing more and more of the same, as though volume of business alone were sufficient. This city needs to push forward in technological innovation and scientific research.

As for me, I don’t merely want a front row seat to this city’s progress. I want to be part of the show.


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The Leap to Mobile and Learning to Code in Brazil

Every so often I hear about how African nations are leapfrogging over the desktop and going straight to mobile technology. This has been the case there for several years now, especially with payments and bank transactions largely routing through lower-end “feature phones." Toby Shapshak gave an interesting TED Talk last year about Africa’s innovative use of simple mobile technology, entitled ”You don’t need an app for that.“ Here in Brazil the trend is clearly in favor of smartphones over both feature phones and desktop computing. One concern this has raised for me is that people here will remain tech consumers rather than tech innovators.

When people, especially the youth, have access to desktops or laptops, they have the basic tools to code. They only lack initiative and perhaps some guidance. For many in the United States, the introduction to coding came through playing around with a desktop computer, especially in the early days of "home computing.” If developing and emerging economies are skipping straight to mobile, that’s great but also a challenge. It’s good news because people with smartphones have access to a range of useful tools and sources of entertainment. At the same time, it’s worth giving special attention to providing an environment in which young people (and adults, of course) can try their own hand at coding.

It isn’t that I think that everyone should (or even can) become a full-fledged developer. Instead, I believe that everyone should have the opportunity to learn about programming so that 1) they can be “literate” in the 21st century world of business and technology and 2) so that those who are apt to code can find their way into the field.

Here in Uberlândia I’ve helped out in setting up a computer lab at a local non-profit that works with neighborhood children. I’d love to see a complete course (or series of courses) come about there. Elsewhere in Brazil (São Paulo) a new for-profit school has opened, called “SuperGeeks,” that offers classes in development as well as English. Since most international business is transacted in English, and since Portuguese is only the 6th most spoken language in the world (after Arabic), it stands to reason that language instruction be included. A familiarity both with technology and English is increasingly essential for anyone entering the job market, including in Brazil.

SuperGeeks has a lofty goal, as stated on their website: “Lets’ make Brazil a global point of reference in technology.” It’s certainly worth a shot.

If you understand Portuguese, check out the SuperGeeks video below.


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Note: No compensation of any kind was provided for mentioning SuperGeeks in this post, and this does not constitute an endorsement of the school.