Tag Archives: facebook

Help me name my new book about blogging!

Can you help me please? I need help naming my new book!

I’ve been working on a new book about blogging for a while now and I expect to finish it off next week – the main draft at least. The focus is on content marketing and how more CEOs than ever are blogging and appreciating that blogs and social media are a very important way of reaching out to their customers *and* the people who influence their customers.

I need to think of a title for the book so does anyone have any ideas? I was thinking of ideas like ‘Your boss – the blogger’ but I need something catchy and creative… all comments appreciated and if I do actually borrow an idea then I’ll make sure you get a credit in the book!

You can comment here on the blog or if you follow this link to my Facebook then feel free to comment there – thanks in advance!

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Brazil: I’ll do it tomorrow if that’s OK?

Business Daily on the BBC World Service today was focused on the possible decision by FIFA to cancel the World Cup games in Curitiba because the stadium is not ready. The BBC is being cautious and waiting for the actual announcement from FIFA, but ESPN has already started reporting that FIFA has taken this decision and Curitiba is officially out of the World Cup.

Of course this would be a disaster for Curitiba. It’s a fantastic city that is clean, safe, and has buses that people actually use. A complete contrast from the edginess of São Paulo or the favelas dotted all over Rio. It’s the last place that you might expect to fail when Brazil has also been building new stadiums in places like Manaus and Cuiabá.

But what I found irksome when listening to the BBC coverage was the vox pops they used when characterising Brazil. There was a university professor who talked about the culture in Brazil that everything can be done tomorrow. There was the miserable commuter who spends hours travelling to and from work each day – on a good day. There was the small business owner who said how terribly difficult it is to do business in Brazil.

The coverage wasn’t balanced or fair. I have complained a fair few times about the challenges of living in Brazil, notably things like the bureaucracy associated with buying an insurance policy or registering a car. Simple transactions that should really be easier, but on balance I actually like it here. It sounds irritating to hear the BBC doing a cultural hatchet job on how all Brazilians are lazy, feckless, and would rather not do anything today because there is always tomorrow.

I run a business in Brazil. If a contractor delivers anything late then I don’t pay them. If they let me down more than once I will never work with them again. If they don’t deliver a quality service then I negotiate a new price. I haven’t had very many problems at all with this idea that nothing ever gets delivered on time – I had far more trouble when I ran a business back in the UK.

Small businesses in Brazil benefit from a simple tax structure. You just pay tax on the revenue coming into your company. No need for complex offsets or depreciation, just pay a fixed percentage on your revenue. Imagine if Starbucks was doing that in the UK, rather than transferring profit to Switzerland therefore reducing the local profit to nothing and therefore paying little or no corporation tax.

And small business owners get paid on time in Brazil. When I send an invoice to a client I tell my bank that I have sent it and who it has gone to AND when they are going to pay. If the company doesn’t pay then my bank will chase the company – like my own debt collection service. Imagine if small companies in the UK could rely on their bank to help them this way? Why don’t they do it?

There is a very vibrant start-up culture in Brazil and loads of technological innovation taking place in the big corporates and the tiny micro-businesses. State governments are handing out cash to entrepreneurs all over the country without demanding equity in return because they are actively trying to stimulate the start-up culture and the benefits that one big success can bring to a region.

My own wife is a part of this scene. She is travelling all over Brazil meeting traditional artisans and joining them together into a collective called Gift Brazil, so they can harness the power of social media tools like Facebook to promote their traditional art and culture. Can you imagine the market a traditional artist in the middle of the Amazon might usually have for their work? Just the odd tourist wandering past perhaps… now they can be seen by the entire world.

I know that balance doesn’t make for a great story. It’s easier to get clicks on a story if you tell a miserable story, rather than try spreading the good news, but in the year of the FIFA World Cup Brazil is getting showered in bad news. Everything is late, the people don’t want it, it will all be a disaster…

Well there are some great interesting projects taking place in Brazil that are redefining how people work, people are demanding and starting to get more political transparency, and some of us are looking forward to the World Cup – even though I don’t have a single ticket for any of the matches!

Toucan eye

 

Photo by Doug Wheller licensed under Creative Commons

Flickr is ten today!

Photo sharing service Flickr turns ten today. This news has been a little overshadowed by the news that Facebook was ten last week, but I still love Flickr, even though it is now part of the Yahoo! empire.

This is the most popular photo I have ever uploaded to Flickr. It’s my Staffordshire Bull Terrier Matilda wearing a pair of boxing gloves in London. As I write this blog today, this photo has been viewed 12,980 times.

Staffie with boxing gloves

This photo of Matilda on the beach at Woolacombe in Devon is considered by Flickr to be the most interesting photo I have ever uploaded – with interestingness being different to just views because it includes a measure of how many people commented on the photo or made it a favourite photo of theirs.
Matilda on Woolacombe beach

However, this Rothko image from the Tate Modern art gallery in London comes in a close second…

Rothko - Black on Maroon

My photos on Flickr do still get quite a few views. Today they have been viewed 10,693 times and in total my collection of 30,008 photos has been viewed 4,130,107 times. Yes, that’s over 4 million views on my photographs on Flickr!

So happy birthday Flickr and here’s to the next decade 🙂

Gringoes: why would you live in Brazil?

I’m a regular reader of the Gringoes.com website. It’s a magazine for foreigners living and working in Brazil and the downsides of being in Brazil are a regular theme of articles and discussion, particularly in the associated Facebook group where readers can vent their opinion openly without the need for an editor to approve what they submit to the magazine.

In the past day there has been an enormous argument raging on the Facebook group because one foreigner wrote a list of dozens and dozens of reasons why he hates living in Brazil.

Every foreign person living far from home has some reason to miss home, but for someone to sit and write a list of 66 – yes 66 – reasons he hates being in Brazil leaves me feeling rather incredulous. This is surely a hatred bordering on obsession?

It is easy to leave. Even if his wife has a good job. Or she wants to be close to her family. He could just leave, return to the USA and swallow the cost of visiting regularly as being better than having to endure a life in Brazil.

But comparing things to home is normal. I knew a British guy who has now left Brazil and he would lament about the quality of shops like Boots. I actually think that the drug stores in São Paulo are pretty good – even if the generic drugs are too expensive.

I spent some time living in the USA teaching kids when I was younger. I had a health-plan provided by my employer and I never needed to use it, but now I am self-employed, I think that finding over $1,000 a month to ensure I can see a doctor when I need one would seriously put me off ever living in the USA – but it’s a place I love visiting.

I spent a lot of time in India and Singapore when I was working for a bank and I had all kinds of comments and thoughts about those places. Singapore is clean and safe and well ordered, but nobody has any real ability to criticise the government – then you end up wondering how much that right is worth if the streets are clean and you have no fear of getting mugged?

In India the poverty is oppressive, even in cities like Mumbai where billionaires and film stars frequent the beaches and luxury hotels. All my foreign friends living there had to be in gated communities, sealed off from the ‘normal’ people – is that really what life in India is about?

And so what about Brazil? It’s true that the country is saddled with an inefficient bureaucracy and it appears there is no desire to streamline any of it – just dealing with the cartorios (notary offices) alone by using biometric identity would sweep away an enormous amount of time checking and stamping forms – often for no other reason than confirming a signature is genuine. But there are probably millions of people working in these offices so the government would give efficiency with one hand and wipe out jobs with the other.

Brazilian drivers are very aggressive. I don’t mind most of the time, but when someone pulls a stunt like overtaking me on a sweeping corner (it happens a lot more often than you might think) and their stupidity is endangering me and my family then I get angry – and there should be no need to.

It is tough to negotiate life in Brazil sometimes. I’m grateful that I’ve got a fantastic wife who can steer me through a lot of the things that would give a foreigner an entirely negative view of the place. I know a British guy who was robbed at gunpoint in São Paulo in his own home, but his Brazilian wife chose a crappy neighbourhood for them to live in where he would obviously stand out – so who is to blame?

I’ve also been lucky to get great professional advice. The accountant for my business had never handled a company like ours before – lots of foreign clients, money coming from all over the world, only really dealing in intellectual property  rather than tangible assets. She studied all the relevant rules to handle our company and has been doing a great job – and it’s needed because even a small company here has to file a tax or regulatory report AT LEAST ONCE A DAY… I did mention there is a lot of bureaucracy here.

Foreigners on the Gringoes website complain of being ripped off – try catching a taxi in India then and asking the driver to use the meter. It won’t happen. They complain of the ‘culture’ in Brazil not being like back home. They complain about how they can’t complain without being ignored.

I have even seen foreigners on the forums talking about how Brazilian music is just not as good as it is back at home. Are they kidding? Have you been out in São Paulo recently? It is packed with live gigs going on every night of the week. I admit, seeing the big international rock acts is expensive, but there is a thriving art, music, and culture scene in Brazil.

And then, when Brazilians respond with a list of all the great things about Brazil it just so often seems to be full of clichés… is feijoada really one of the reasons why people choose to live in Brazil?

The reality is that you can’t define a place with a single broad stroke. There is no Brazil this or that in the same way that living in Louisiana is very different to California or New York. Living far from home is affected firstly by the place you have chosen to be and the people you are with.

For example, if you are used to life in central New York or London then life on a beach up in the rural north east of Brazil might seem idyllic when you first arrive. The sun, the beach, the endless opportunity to live next to the barbecue. After a while though you might start wondering when you are going to next visit the cinema, a theatre, see a rock concert, or meet a friend who has read the books of Anthony Burgess. Living an idyllic life by the beach can have downsides too.

And the people are important. Moving anywhere can be improved by having a partner from that country, but people are people. I’ve met many Brazilian people from São Paulo who don’t even know how to get around their own city. In my short time here I’ve learned more about the public transport infrastructure and different neighbourhoods than they have in a lifetime. And I’ve also seen locals setting up home with their foreign partners in completely inappropriate locations – as I already mentioned.

I’m not suggesting that a foreigner moving to São Paulo has to live in a ghetto of foreigners. It actually annoys me when I meet ex-pats living in the city and they all gravitate to Jardins, Moema, or Brooklin. They are not really the most interesting parts of the city at all, but are considered ‘safe’ so foreigner-ghettos are created and then the cycle is reinforced – these are good places for foreigners to live because others are already there.

So the type of place, the location, the people you are with – these are all factors in creating your personal experience. The cultural complaints I read on Gringoes are all influenced by this – we are all in different places with different people so we cannot just assume the same about Brazil. The Brazil one person experiences can be entirely different to that experienced by another.

When I see the complaints about foreigners being treated differently, getting ripped off, I remember when I was living in São Paulo and every shop owner in my street would wave and say hello as I walked my dog down the street. I had a set of spare house keys in my local bar, in case I ever lost my keys. The taxi drivers at my local cab rank all said hello and were happy to do short or long runs at short notice. I never found any of the negativity I can see expressed on the discussion forums.

I was never burgled or mugged or witnessed any crime during my time in São Paulo, despite the statistics painting an image of the city as one step away from Gomorrah.

Now I live in a smaller town this has only become more accentuated. The paranoid may fear that standing out as the only English person in town might lead to being targeted by burglars or worse, but what have I found? Just a sincere welcome everywhere I go from the barber to the bakery to the bar to the local government – who are all excited about having a real English person help them with some music and culture related to the UK.

In fact, what have I found out about Brazil in short?

  • Business; running a business is bureaucratic. I cannot even personally deal with the number of regulatory and tax reports I need to file – it is more than one report a day. But my accountant does it all efficiently at a reasonable price and the corporation tax on my company is lower than in the UK. It takes a bit of effort to run the firm, but in short, the tax bill is lower than it would be in the US or UK so that can only be a good thing. I am better off that I would be back in the UK and I’m staying on the right law of the law and paying my taxes.
  • World focus; talking of business, I am busier than ever. Brazil is a great place to be as it has survived the global economic downturn and with the next World Cup and Olympic games coming here everyone is looking to do business in Brazil in this decade.
  • Home; I now live in a lovely spa town of about 30,000 people packed full of mineral water springs. I open the window in the morning and see mountains in front of me as the sun rises. I’ve got a pool and sauna at home and space to entertain friends when they come over. I can’t imagine having all this back in London – my last home in the UK was a small flat.
  • Nature; I’m surrounded by the most incredible countryside and real live toucans and parrots fly past – they are not just things you see on postcards from Brazil.
  • People; I’ve met so many fantastic people since I moved to Brazil – some locals and some foreigners living here. There is something about living away from your home country that encourages you to get out to meet more people than if you were back on familiar territory and this can be a wonderfully positive experience. I have even ended up working with the British embassy to promote the UK for business and tourism.
  • Weather; Brazil is an enormous country with searing heat in the north to snow in the south. Where I am living now will be dry until about September and I work outside in the sun almost every day. I’m pretty happy about that – would you prefer a balcony with a mountain view or a dull basement office?

In short, I have personally had a fantastic time since moving to Brazil and I have found opportunities and experiences that would just have never happened had I stayed in London.

There are things I would like to improve in Brazil. Maybe my voice and opinion can help to influence a few changes, but I see so many more positives than negatives. I think that the foreigners who endlessly whine about the problems of Brazil are living in the wrong place.

The foreigners may even be right. They might have a valid point, but if you want to while away your days complaining and dreaming of when you can move someplace else then why not just remember the words of John Lennon:

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.

Airport bus

Evite este lugar a todo o custo! Avoid this place at all costs!

Português está abaixo:

I’ve been to Camburi and Camburizinho, small villages in the north coast of São Paulo, many times. I’ve stayed in hotels, pousadas, and a campsite. On a visit last year I noticed the Ventos do Camburi pousada when I was looking for breakfast. It looked nice so I joined their Facebook fan page and email mailing list to receive more information.

They recently sent out an offer by email and I replied asking to book a weekend away – a Friday and Saturday night. They responded with the price and I agreed, paid my deposit and then travelled over from São Paulo on Friday evening.

When I arrived the reception manager was friendly and even showed me a couple of different rooms saying that I could choose between them. My husband and I chose our room, then went out for dinner, and had a nice evening.

Things were not perfect in the (very small) room despite the pleasant reception. The room smelled of mould and woodworm or lice were eating the door – all night we could hear something inside the door eating the wood and when I first heard it I thought we had rats in the room!

In the morning we went to breakfast and a man was talking loudly about how he ‘must speak to the people in room 23’… I said to him that we were from room 23. He was the hotel manager Carlos – he said that we have been placed in the wrong room and we were even in the wrong pousada! When I asked him what he meant, he said that Ventos owns two places – one in Camburi and one in Camburizinho.

We had checked into the Ventos that we had first seen, the one on Facebook, and the one we asked to book when we emailed and asked for the prices. However, Carlos said that we were booked into their inferior pousada down the road. He said we could only stay in our room if we paid to upgrade – we should leave immediately and go to the other pousada.

I asked Carlos how this could happen. We had asked for information, made a booking based on that information, and been welcomed and shown to our room by his staff.

Carlos turned out to be a very nasty character. He insisted that we had to pay extra to stay in the pousada – even though we had paid for our weekend in full on arrival.

After a long argument and Carlos refusing to change his mind or give any blame for the situation to his own team we decided to just leave the pousada. We asked for our money back for the Saturday night – it was still early on Saturday morning when we were having this argument.

Carlos refused saying that we had paid for the weekend and the money was not refundable as “a courier picks up the money every night”. This escalated into a further argument about him robbing us and we called the police and explained to them how the pousada was not going to refund us and had sold us a room in a completely different pousada.

The police were helpful, but said that was a civil matter and we would need to register a civil case – which we have now done.

One advantage of bringing the police into the matter was that Carlos’s boss and owner of the pousada, Ricardo, promised he would process a refund for us – however he said that it could not be on Saturday as he had to ‘go fishing with friends’ and was therefore too busy to help us. When I asked what he was going to do to fix the situation, he said that he was going to “pray, light a candle and hope for the best.”

We left the hotel feeling cheated – not only had the hotel owner sold us a completely different hotel to the one we believed we had booked (the one on their website and Facebook), but when we asked for our cash back, he refused.

At the time of this comment we are filing a civil action against the hotel for fraud and the incorrect description of the accommodation. We have still not received the R$250 Carlos promised to refund to our account.

Avoid this place at all costs – there are many nice places to stay in Camburi, but this is possibly the worst. It has made me never want to return to the town again.

Já estive em Camburi e Camburizinho, vilarejos no litoral norte paulista, muitas vezes. Já me hospedei em hotéis, pousadas e campings. Em uma visita no ano passado, descobri a pousada Ventos do Camburi enquanto procurava por um local diferente para tomar meu café da manhã. Me pareceu ser um lugar interessante, então “curti” a página da pousada no Facebook e adicionei meu email à lista de discussão de e-mail deles para receber mais informações.

Eles recentemente me enviaram uma promoção via e-mail e eu respondi pedindo para reservar uma suíte para o final de semana. Eles responderam informando o preço e eu concordei, paguei o depósito para que a reserva fosse confirmada e, em seguida, viajei de São Paulo até Camburizinho na noite de sexta-feira.

Quando cheguei na pousada, o recepcionista foi simpático e até me mostrou dois quartos diferentes, dizendo que eu poderia escolher o que mais me agradasse. Meu marido e eu escolhemos nosso quarto e em seguida, saímos para jantar e tivemos uma ótima noite.

As coisas não eram tão boas assim no (pequeno) quarto, apesar da recepção ser bem bonita e moderna. O quarto cheirava a mofo e cupins estavam comendo a porta – durante a noite toda, ouvimos algo dentro do porta comendo a madeira e, quando ouvimos esse ruído pela primeira vez pensamos que haviam ratos na sala!

No dia seguinte, na sala de café da manhã um homem estava falando em voz alta sobre como ele deve falar com “os caras do quarto 23″… Eu disse a ele que estávamos no quarto 23. Esse homem, que se chama Carlos e é gerente do hotel, disse que fomos colocados no quarto errado e estávamos no hotel errado! Quando eu perguntei o que ele quis dizer, ele disse que a Ventos do Camburi possui duas pousadas, uma em Camburi e uma em Camburizinho.

Tínhamos reservado um quarto na Ventos do Camburi, a pousada que tínhamos visto pela primeira vez, a do Facebook, a que tínhamos em mente quando perguntamos os preços, pagamos o depósito e fizemos a reserva. No entanto, Carlos disse que tinhamos reservado um quarto numa pousada inferior ali perto. Ele disse que só poderiamos ficar no nosso quarto, se pagássemos mais por isso – deveríamos sair imediatamente e ir para o outro hotel.

Perguntei ao Carlos como isso era possível. Tínhamos pedido informações, feito uma reserva com base nessas informações, fomos bem acolhidos e sua equipe nos mostrou opções de quartos.

Carlos acabou mostrando ser uma pessoa muito desagradável. Ele insistiu que tínhamos de pagar mais para ficar no hotel – apesar do fato que já haviamos pago adiantado pela nossa estadia no momento que chegamos.

Após uma longa discussão e após o Carlos ter se recusado a mudar de idéia ou dar qualquer explicação sobre os erros de sua própria equipe, decidimos deixar o hotel. Pedimos nosso dinheiro de volta para uma das duas diárias que pagamos- ainda era de manhã no sábado quando esta discussão teve início.

Carlos recusou, dizendo que tinhamos pago as diárias para o final de semana e que nosso dinheiro não poderia ser devolvido, pois o mesmo “não estava mais na pousada, um motoboy levla o dinheiro embora toda noite”. Este se transformou em uma briga pior ainda – desta vez por estarmos sendo roubados. Chamamos a polícia e explicamos como a pousada não nos reembolsaria e como eles nos venderam alhos e recebemos bugalhos.

Os policiais foram prestativos, mas nos disseram que esta era uma questão civil e não penal, e que precisaríamos registrar um boletim de ocorrência – o que estamos fazendo agora.

Uma vantagem de envolver a polícia nisso foi o Carlos ter entrado em contato com o proprietário da pousada, Ricardo, que prometeu que iria nos reembolsar – no entanto, ele disse que não poderia ser no sábado, pois ele iria “ir pescar com os amigos” e estava, portanto, muito ocupado para nos ajudar. Quando perguntei o que ele ia fazer para remediar a situação, ele disse que iria “orar, acender uma vela e esperar o melhor.”

Saímos do hotel nos sentindo ludibriados – o proprietário do hotel nos vendeu um hotel completamente diferente do que acreditávamos que tínhamos reservado (aquele mencionado em seu site e no Facebook) e quando pedimos nosso dinheiro de volta, a administração se recusou a fazê-lo.

Iniciaremos um processo civil contra o hotel por fraude e descrição incorreta de seus serviços. Ainda não recebemos os R$ 250,00 que o Carlos prometeu depositar em nossa conta.

Evite este lugar a todo o custo – existem muitos bons lugares para se hospedar em Camburi, mas este é, possivelmente, o pior. Esta experiência me fez nunca mais querer retornar a esse lugar novamente.

Thieves

Photo by Andrew Becraft licensed under Creative Commons

Is it really so strange to leave work at 5.30pm?

I once moved job from a French financial services company to an American one – Société Générale to Sanford Bernstein. My new boss was based in New York and he used to endlessly mock the holidays we were given by our employers in Europe.

After one particularly “hilarious” episode talking to him about holidays, I reminded him that I had moved from a job where I had annual leave of 30 days to his company where I was only permitted 20 – and that was the absolute minimum allowed under EU law. He claimed that I should be grateful because in New York he gets a week off for Christmas and a week off in the summer for a family vacation.

I never even wanted to move from a French company to an American one. The bank was reducing headcount by 50% (in London) and I was offered a job in Paris, Bangalore, or half my annual salary to leave the firm. So I took the money, left, and was in the new job within weeks.

This macho work culture also prevailed in the London office of Bernstein. I would get my work done and head off home at about 5.30pm most days. I almost always had to listen to colleagues calling out jibes such as “…going home now? Part-time or what?”

Frankly it never bothered me. I was getting paid more than the guys calling out and boasting about their long hours – who is the fool when you are putting in more hours for less cash? And looking back now, I know that spending long evenings at the office would never have made me any happier. Why do people do it?

I started thinking about my former employer when I read the breathless reports that Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg leaves the office at 5.30pm each day so she can enjoy dinner with her family each evening. The way it is reported makes it appear unusual for American office-based employees to leave work before 8pm – and assuming they might spend an hour getting home, then having dinner, it means that for most people it is normal to not enjoy any free time after work . The day is just commute then work then commute then eat then bed.

I work with clients now who respond to emails 24/7, schedule calls when they are on family holidays, and never seem able to switch off. Has it really got so bad that employees are now expected to be walking around DisneyWorld with their family and yet still taking calls from the office? This really happened on a conference call I participated in recently – with the guy at Disney trying to focus on work and keep his kids busy at the same time. What a multi-tasking dad!

I realise that in a tough economic climate people are scared and will do whatever they can to appear invaluable to the company, but why don’t employers switch the emphasis on what they expect of people to the output and value rather than time? If the employee is clear on what is expected for them to be judged successful in their job then the emphasis can be shifted away from long hours appearing to be impressive – if you know you are delivering for the company then you can feel comfortable heading home to see the family.

Of course, many people fear the idea that they might be judged on results rather than just time and apparent effort. It means that the less successful members of the team cannot hide their inability just by working 12-hour days when others can achieve more in 8 hours.

But while America – and the world in general – focuses on long hours as the key to remaining in a job, expect family problems and mental health issues to soar. If only companies learned to measure employees by what they achieve, rather than the hours they spend achieving.

Only psychiatrists benefit from the present approach, and I bet they get home in time for dinner with the kids.

Sunbathing?

Photo by David Reid licensed under Creative Commons

Music – time to start thinking again

I saw a gorgeous concert on Friday night at the Teatro Municipal theatre in São Paulo. The theatre itself was something quite special and has been closed for years for renovation – only to open again about a month ago.
Teatro Municipal

As you can see from the location of my foot, we had front row seats and the orchestra was located immediately on stage with no pit or other barrier – the violins were right in front of my seat.Front row at the theatre

The music was great, a mixture of Tchaikovsky (No. 1 piano concerto) and a couple of Dvorak pieces, including his 8th symphony. It’s nice to hear music that I do regularly play on my iPod, but the difference with a large orchestra compared to a stereo recording is the call-response nature of the orchestra sections. When you are sitting there in person, it’s just nice to hear the strings play a phrase, to be echoed through various parts of the orchestra.

As I was sitting there listening to the music though, it did start me thinking about how hard it is to just switch off and listen to music these days. When I was a kid I would lie on the floor, or in bed, listening to every note of an album. Now music tends to be something consumed while running, or working… just in the background and not worthy of switching off the phone or Internet.

Have we all lost our attention span to the extent that stopping to focus on something for over one hour feels unusual? Dvorak's 8th