Category Archives: life

Public Safety

I was talking to a friend of mine on Twitter and he said something like “There are no safe places in Brazil. Not even inside your house”.

Well, that’s true and I’ll tell a little about how things work down there for your amusement.

First of all: Unlike most houses here in Canada, which are pretty much only a few feet away from the streets or just after the driveway, here is how a typical middle/high income house looks like in Brazil:

portao09

The house in entirely surrounded by high brick walls, usually topped with broken glass, electrical fence or barbed wires. The gates are heavy and sturdy. Not for showing, but to withstand someone trying to break into it.

Once you get past the gates, that’s usually how it looks look like inside:

gradesAs you can see, those windows are at the ground level. So that’s not to avoid kids falling from the window. Those are reinforce steel bars that you see there. Again, meant to resist someone trying to break in.

Guard dogs are very common as well.

It’s very common for neighbourhoods to have some sort of private security guys, usually during the night, roaming the streets on bikes and blowing a horn or whistle once in a while to themselves known and, theoretically scare away the bad guys.  Actually a lot of them operate like the Mafia, selling protection from themselves.

Guns are extremely regulated in Brazil, making it almost impossible for a regular citizen to acquire one lawfully. Buying on the black-market, on the other hand, is easy and cheap.
However, if you shoot someone that broke into your house with an irregular gun you’ll be arrested without bail. You’ll still be arrested if you used a legitimate one. As an “average joe” you will probably be made an example and will go to jail. Looks like you can easily avoid jail time by being “unprivileged” or extremely wealth, though.

So lots of people are scared to live in houses, since even with all that security when you are leaving/entering you house you could be quickly approached by criminals which will take you inside your house and will surely destroy your life (and very likely kill you). Face it: you are alone and you are an easy prey.

Therefore people started looking for safer environments, like apartment buildings.Again, not anything like here in Canada.portariaBy now you are familiar with the high walls and electrical fence. The next thing to known (you can’t really see on this picture) is that there is a small construction just a few feet behind the gates, between them and the building entrance. It usually has tinted bullet-proof glasses and that’s where the doorman stays.

When you get to an apartment building you ring the bell and he’ll answer you on a intercom. You state who you are and which apartment you are heading to. He’ll put you on hold and ring the apartment, tell who is there (how many people and who they stated to be) and ask if anyone is expecting you (People can usually switch their TV to the CCTV channel and check out too). Once you are allowed in, to come up you will usually have to pass on a man-trap like that:Acc_ManTrapNow: It’s important to highlight that most buildings only allow visitors to come up. Delivers are supposed to be picked up at the front or, at most, at the man trap. Some buildings even implemented a “parcel gateway” that looks like that:encomendaThey are embedded into the brick wall, so you can safely pick up you pizza. The delivery guy puts the pizza in one end, the doorman push a button that locks down that end and opens the other. You take your pizza and put your money there, button pushed again, the pizza guy picks his cash and everybody goes home happy. Nobody was murdered or kidnapped on that pizza exchange.

The reason behind this is that criminals started to kidnap/impersonate delivery guys to get into the buildings. Sad story.

I won’t even bother talking about CCTV and armed guards. Just know that they exist. Depending on the building (or building complex) there would be several armed guards roaming over the property 24×7 checking the walls, garages, playgrounds… you name it.

On top of physical security and personal it’s also common for building to have security policies and procedures. One of the buildings I lived was in a two-way street, but you were mandated to approach the building always from the same side. Had you been kidnapped, held against your will and someone was hiding inside the car with you, then you approach the building from the other side. The doorman would still open and let you in, but immediately call police and start the locking down procedure.

Many more things would be in place. For example, high-end apartment buildings usually have only one unit per floor. So it’s common for those building to have a password on the elevator, so you can get to the floor only by knowing such password. It’s not uncommon to have a distress password as well, which will allow the elevator to move, but call the police and alert the security staff at the same time.

Some buildings also have car-traps, similar to the man traps above, where you are allowed to enter the building, then security personal will ask you to open your windows and light up the car’s interior, while highly bright lamps will be shinning upon you. That also avoids fast approaching criminals (usually on motorcycles) to break into the building while people are entering or leaving.

Now.. that’s a pretty safe setup, right? You wish.

The criminals implemented something nick-named “arrastão” – (trawler, like in trawling net).

Groups up to 50 heavily armed criminals (I’m talking about assault rifles and grenades here) will storm the buildings using heavy trucks (to break into the gates), mini-vans (to transport several of them) and motorcycles (for fast action) and will quickly break into the building. Bullet-proof glasses take only take so much, right?

Security personal will not even dare to engage, since that would be signing their own death sentence. On that note it’s not unusual for police to stall when an arrastão is in progress. They are also out-numbered and out-armed compared to the criminals. They’ll take their sweet time before heading to the scene.

So what I’m trying to show here is that there is no safe place in Brazil. Really. Not even in your home. Be thankful every day for the safety that we have in Canada and never, ever, take it for granted.

As an additional resource, I recommend you to watch “Elite Squad” on Netflix.

Slow meal

I’m a big fan of Tim Ferris and a couple months ago I read his best-seller “The 4 Hour Work Week” again. There is a lot of good stuff there, including good ideas on life style. One that is easy and cheap to implement is taking one meal a week and make it a ‘slow meal’.

My wife and I usually have supper together every week day and on the weekends all the three meals most of the times, but having one special meal, during which we take our time to talk, sip a good wine and enjoy 3 or 4 courses makes a great quality time. It’s almost like going on a date without leaving home and putting fancy clothes.

Everything on our lives move too fast nowadays. And there are distractions and things on our minds all the time. We try not to do that as rule, but a lot of people will take their phones to the table, check messages, read facebook or whatever during the meal without ever interacting or enjoying their families. Geez, I hear that a lot of people don’t even have meals with their families. Each member of the household has their own schedule for eating. :-\

If that is your case, take one meal a week (I suggest Friday or Saturday night or Sunday lunch) and shutdown your electronic devices, put the nice china and silverware out, (some candles maybe?)  and cook a good meal.

One of my creations for a slow meal

Yeah, the cook part is important too. Don’t order stuff. It’s part of the process, the fun. I usually start with a salad or appetizer, we eat and talk for a few minutes. Depending on the meal the next course could still be in the oven or maybe I’ll start cooking it after the salad… I don’t know. Take. Your. Time.

If you want some ideas on what to cook, Tim has another book for novice cooks called “The 4-Hour Chef” which I recommend not only for the recipes.

I’ll be cooking our weekly slow meal today. And this time will be steak.

Toughness

I believe most of us could use a little more toughness. I certainly could. No shame to admit I’m nowhere as tough as I would like to be. That’s a work in progress.

I started thinking about it back in October 2013 when I read this post at the Art of Manliness. This says it all: “Men in particular often confuse toughness with strength, thinking that being strong is automatically the same as being tough, when in fact the two are distinct qualities.”

By the same rule I always thought I couldn’t be tough, since I’m not strong. But that post has more: “Mental toughness boils down to how you respond to stress. Do you start to panic and lose control, or do you zero in on how you are going to overcome the difficulty?”

 

Wait. I realized I’m good at that. Specially at work. The world may be falling apart and I’m still able to keep focus and put myself together. I’ll also freak out later and have a bad night of sleep. But I power it through first.

So what’s mental toughness? According to Wikipedia: “Mental toughness – a term commonly used by coaches, sport psychologists, sport commentators, and business leaders – generally describes a collection of attributes that allow a person to persevere through difficult circumstances and emerge without losing confidence.”

Well, so maybe general toughness actually starts at your mind. And that’s where I’m heading to. I agree with the original post, which states that toughness is a skill. And like any other skill it can be trained and enhanced.

So here are some of the things I’m trying in order to get tougher:

  • Push harder on physical training: Pushing a little harder every training session is a requirement to get better. But to get tough I’m actually trying to push much harder every time. I fail miserably  once in a while, but in general it works
  • Temperature comfort: Not hard to practice this one in Canada. I’m constantly colder than it would be comfortable. Either very cold for just a few minutes (like taking the dog outside for 2 minutes wearing only shorts and t-shirt at -20.oC) or just a little cold for a long time (keeping the house at 17.oC all day long). Late fall/early winter I was practicing spending up to 30 minutes on shorts and t-shirts sitting outside the house (between 2.oC and -3.oC)
  • Expose myself to social interaction: This is a big one for me. I’m not good with socialization so taking baby steps.
  • Fasting. I haven’t done that in a while since I’m trying to keep my current body weight, but fasting up to 24hrs (only water and unsweetened  tea and coffee allowed) is discomfortable and also good for your health.
  • Embrace the struggle. I’m trying to actually the enjoy any struggles as part of a learning process

Do you have any tips for me? Any thoughts on that?

Well… That was unexpected

I’m a very resilient guy. I don’t say that to brag, but because it’s true. I’m not as tough as I would like to be, but that’s a work in progress.

So I surprised myself when earlier this year I decided to throw the towel. It was time to move on. My job was not making me happy anymore.

I’m by no means Steve Job’s greatest fan, but this quote is really good:

“for the past 33 years I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself, “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I’m about to do today. And whenever the answer has been, “no” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.” 

Let’s not fools ourselves saying that there is a job out there which is 100% fun all the time. It just doesn’t exist. Everybody will have good days and bad days at work. But if the bad ones outnumber the good ones by a significant amount, maybe you should look for something else.

I’m a very technical guy, with lots of technical skills. I love when my job is hard because someone gave me something hard to do. I’ll need to study, research, learn, compare, try, fail, try again, pull my hair, fail once more, (repeat several times) until I find a solution. Then I’ll plan, schedule and execute. Move on to the next challenge.

I. get. stuff. done.

If you know the Eisenhower Decision Matrix, I love quadrant 2, but I’ve been living on quadrant 1 and 3 for a  long time. And not because of my decisions, which is very annoying.

So with bad days taking place pretty much every day – weekends and holidays included – I decided I had enough. No, I don’t have a new job. I just walked away.

It’s time to regroup and rethink now. I do love what I do and I think I’m pretty good at it. But I’m not sure if I want to stay on operations. Maybe system architecture. Well, a decent DevOps group is not bad either. As far as there is a long and fair on-call rotation it should be OK. Team leadership… I don’t know.

At this point I’m shopping around and looking what’s out there. I really hope I can find something that will push me to the edge of my skills and knowledge and not of my nerves.

 

2013 in review

I think 2013 will be the last exciting year for the next while. We got a lot of things done, attained some goals and crossed stuff from the bucket list. All that required preparation, laying some bases, hard training and saving money during the previous years, which is what I see myself doing for the next year or two again.

Nevertheless let’s see what happened this year:

Early January we ran a Marathon. 42km. Those who don’t know me, I used to be a +300lbs obese, diabetic fellow till 2010. So yes, Marathon was a big achievement.

Later on the year I also managed to run my first Triathlon. Although the distance was way shorter than a marathon, the swimming part was really hard. I have little experience on that particular sport and even less on open-water swimming. But I managed to finish it on a better time than I expected.

I also ran a half marathon, a couple 10Ks, set a new PR on a 5K and ran an mid-distance Duatlhon. Now that I think, this year was intense.

But for what I have planned for the future, training more and more and longer and longer won’t cut. So I started lifting weights and more recently crossfitting.

IMG_20131209_201156

Unfortunately I didn’t have too many opportunities to learn new things this year, but I did manage to get a firearms safety course, which I still plan to continue to the next level, which is restricted firearms safety. My grandfather always says that knowledge does not take real estate (if that translation makes any sense in English), meaning that if you can learn something, do it. It won’t cause any trouble to know more stuff.

The other course I attend to was “Disaster Preparedness” on Coursera. Very interesting and informative. It’s a free online training, which I would recommend everyone to take.

So by the summer I was feeling fit enough and brave enough to apply for the Halifax Search and Rescue, which I’m interested in since 2008. I knew I couldn’t do it before, but maybe now I would make the cut. And I did it. And put a lot of training hours on it and I’m now a fully trained searcher. This is one of the most challenging things I’ve done. So completely outside of my comfort zone that I can’t even describe.

Now, one of the most special things this year was our 10th anniversary. I can’t believe how old we got. I mean, only old people  are married for 10 years, right? To celebrate that we went back to the same places we spent our honey moon, back in 2003: Paris and London.

Not only it is awesome to be married to my dear wife for 10 years, but we are almost at the point were we will be together for longer than we’ve been alone, since we started dating in 1997. \o/

Of course life is not made only of good stuff and plenty of nasty things happened as well, but I see no point on thinking about them. Some were lessons to be learned, some were just facts of life, some a kick on the butt to get me moving and some a humble reminder that I’m not the one in control of my life. God is.

But now, O Lord, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.(Isaiah 64:7-8, ESV)

So between pushing hard on sports, engaging on some new challenges and moving to the next 10 years of my marriage, it was a pretty good year. Will be hard to beat this one, though I have plans. If those plans will match with God’s plans it’s still an unknown, but all I can do is to plan, prepare and give my best.