Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Grandpa's games - points of view

I always enjoyed games that require reasoning: puzzles, logic games, etc, and I hope I can pass this taste to my grandson.
Among the many available games magazines, my favorite is the American Games, which I discovered on my business trips and which has helped me enjoy the time spent on many nights at hotels. And it was from this magazine that I took the idea for creating this post. The pictures are of common objects found here at home, but taken from uncommon angles and positions. Guess what are these objects: a point for the person who guesses each object first, let's see who wins...
Warning: when you click on each photo, you'll see its answer...

Friday, January 26, 2007

Grandpa's trunk - São Paulo

Today I open my trunk to show some souvenirs from the Fourth Centennial of São Paulo: pictures from a magazine showing a recently opened Ibirapuera Park, still unfinished, and from a calendar of that year. It's a small tribute to my city, that celebrates today the 453th anniversary of its foundation.

I'm a second-generation paulistano. My mother, who was the daughter of a Portuguese father and an Austrian mother, was born on the Brás neighborhood, which at that time was an Italina town within the city - a typical São Paulo mix! My grandson is, therefore, a fourth-generation paulistano. It is difficult for those who don't live here to understand how it is possible to love this city. But for those who come live here with an open mind, without preconceived ideas and without the intention of returning home as fast as possible, the city will slowly reveal its charms, its secrets, its beuty, its fringe benefits. People begin to learn that it is possible for any person to discover in São Paulo their own town, suited to their tastes, hobbies, idiosyncrasies. Very few cities in the world are so self-sufficient, so complete in what they offer their dwellers.
São Paulo today is very different from the city of my childhood, of course. Worse? The first impulse is to say Yes: to remember the calm streets, the wide horizons, the merchants we knew by name. But on a second thought we see that in the last years many things are changinf for better. Today we have a much more intense cultural life, great musicals, a world-class symphonic orchestra. Birds are returning to the city thanks to the planting of trees that attract them. The Tietê river is undergoing a huge depollution project which must be maintained for decades to get to the results we all dream about. Ths disorderly growth unfortunately continues, but this will change only when São Paulo ceases to be the dreamland for all desparing people in this country (and the neighboring ones). This vision of São Paulo as the lat hope is something we must be proud of and, at the same time, sad about. In other words, this is another one of the contrasts that compose the portrait of this city of mine...
How will the São Paulo of my grandson be? Much better, I hope. I hope he will be able to navigate on the Tietê, to walk on the streets at night without fear, to breath an air as pure as in the countryside, to see birds that still haven't returned. And that he may continue to enjoy all the advantages of living in one of the largest and most dynamic cities in the world. Oh, and to eat the best pizza on the planet! Happy birthday, São Paulo!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

First talk

On the first weeks, grandpa would look at his grandson, would play, would drool, but the baby, poor thing, wouldn't understand a thing. He was very busy learning how to suck, how to digest what he sucked, how to get rid of what was left...
But now, with six weeks, he is beginning to understand something about the world that surrounds him. Mom, of course, was the first one to be recognized and rewarded with looks and smiles. Than came dad. And grandpa, who on Sunday visited him and, when he put Guilherme on his crib and talked to him, was very happy to hear him answer, with those bubbling "ghhhs" of who's learning how to produce sounds! How lovely! This was the first of many talks we'll have on our lives...

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Grandpa's trunk - stamps

An old Carnaval song said that confetti are "colored pieces of memories". What are stamps, then? Besides memories, they're colored pieces of history, geography...
In these times of instant communication , when people talk on their mobile phones even in the restroom and receive their e-mails while they walk (or even worse, while they drive), traditional mail has lost a lot of its importance. But not very long ago, it was almost the only way of communicating at great distances. And stamps, more than being a mean for paying postal fees, were show windows to their countries.

I've never been a "serious" stamp collector. I didn't know about the values of the stamps, or how to identify a stamp with good philatelic quality. I collected, or should I say, I gathered stamps because they made me curious, for their colors, for the pictures of animals, planes, historic characters, whatever...
I had a Japanese neighbor who would always call me to the backyard and throw me, from her window, beautiful stamps from Japan, still glued to the very thin envelope paper. And the stamps from other countries, my mother would buy them downtown, in parchment paper envelopes, always with the legend: "All different and authentic"...

Looking at these stamps today, I see countries that no longer exist, Dictators and kings who no one misses, advanced technology that today belongs in museums...

Monday, January 15, 2007

You never forget your first car

As a TV ad used to say, Brazilians are passionate about cars, and I'm no exception: I've been following Formula One since Jim Clark's era; when I was in Germany for the first time, I traveled for long hours to watch my first Grand Prix race in person, in the old Nürburgring track (where I only could see the cars passing on the long straight line for a few seconds on each lap); and I didn't miss any of the first Brazilian GPs, before the Globo network managed to move the GP to Rio - when it returned to São Paulo, ticket prices were already prohibitive...
I always went to the São Paulo Auto Show with my father, from the very first ones, still in a pavillion at Ibirapuera Park, which later was demolished. I even saw president João Goulart very closely once, examining a gold-painted Aero-Willys - the first president I've ever seen in person...

And my first car was not the VW beetle that was the standard of the time- it was a Triumph Spitfire! The story goes like this: I had been working for two years and was 21, but I didn't have a driver's license yet. One day I decided to take a walk on a street that was famous for its used car dealers. Suddenly, there it was: convertible, red, beautiful! I got in, I asked for the price, I didn't even test the car, I didn't bargain, I said: - I'll take it! The salesman probably thought I was crazy... I made the deal immediately, I don't even remember how I paid, but I left the store driving the car. A detail: besides not having a driver's license, I'd never driven, except for a few minutes behind my father's VW bus on a remote beach... I managed to get home, but not before having the engine quit on me several times. I thought it was my fault for not knowing how to drive, but it wasn't. The car had a carburetor problem - first visit to the shop, problem solved with an adjustment.
The car had a history: it had been imported by a Matarazzo, and later belonged to a Sodré (both are traditional families of São Paulo)... It had a pending import documentation, every year it had to be stamped by the Federal Police, that would inform that the process was still going on - and so it went for all the years until I sold the car...
It was a '65 Mk II model, but its front was that of a '67 Mk III - one day, some time later, at the shop, one person that was there recognized the car and told me that a previous owner had destroyed its front. The shop was owned by a very serious "Japanese", Hélio, who would see me frequently... On a trip to the U.S., I bought the maintenance manual for the car, and tried to do as much as I could at home (I became a specialist in disassembling the carburetors, which were very simple and similar to those used in motorcycles, and in cleaning and adjusting the distributor points and adjusting the engine timing by ear). I also bought the back light lenses: very stylish, they were kept in place by a single screw on top and by a small tab on the bottom; even a small blow would break them around the screw head.
But, shop expenses aside, the little car was beautiful! Convertible, besides the canvas top it had a solid steel top, and also a tonneau, that protective covering placed at door height: it had a zipper on the middle, you could open just the driver's side... And the knock-off wire wheels! Instead of a wrench, a mallet and a piece of wood were needed to loosen the nut, and on the right side the nuts were reverse-threaded so that they wouldn't become loose. From time to time it was necessary to tighten and adjust the spokes, and there was only one person in São Paulo who had the skill for this...
Not to mention the hood, that opened fully forward leaving the engine and the front suspension exposed! The Triumph was thrilling: not for its performance, since its 1.2 liter engine wasn't so powerful, despite the car's little weight, but for the scares it would give me from time to time. On the first months, while I was still driving without a driver's license, I went for a ride on one of today's busiest freeways in São Paulo, but that at the time was still unfinished; I ran over a water puddle, the car aquaplaned and ended up stopped sideways on a pile of mud. A door dented and another visit to the shop...
Another time, already married and with my wife pregnant of our first son, driving to Guararema on the Dutra highway, suddenly the car kept going straight when I turned the steering wheel. I only had time to tell her to hold on tight, take my foot of the gas pedal and, fortunately, remember not to step hard on the brakes, so the car wouldn't change course - and, of course, to pray... We stopped in a ditch that, luckily, existed on the shoulder... The reason: the steering column had an articulation with a rubber disc held with screws, and the all screws somehow became loose...
One day, a neighboor rang and asked me if I would like to rent the car for a TV ad. Very simple, he explained: all I had to do was to take the car at night to the location and spend some hours there while they filmed the ad, and I would be paid for it. I accepted, and on the evening I drove to the location: a huge mansion that belonged to Horácio Lafer, a former Finance Minister, and later was bought by the editor of then famous magazine Manchete. I arrived on time and waited, waited, waited... There were many other exotic cars and their also exotic owners there: Corvette, Thunderbird, etc. The film team ran in all directions, positioned lights, the lighting man measured the light with his photometer, the team moved the lights... The owner of the Corvette was a little tipsy, and every time the man with the photometer came close, he would say: here comes the compass man again... Well, to make a long story short, when we left the sun was rising, and I was told: tomorrow at the same time at Embu. What? Wasn't it supposed to be only tonight? No, of course not, you have to be tomorrow at Embu or you won't be paid... Next evening, same story: lights, "compass", tipsy Corvette owner, etc. They started filming just before sunrise, and suddenly the lights of the square went off. What now? They find that the night watch had turned off the lights, somebody rushes to beg him to turn them on again... Finally, the filming ended. I don't know how I managed to go to work after two days without sleeping. I got my payment a few days later. When the ad ran on TV, I tried to locate my car: poor thing, it only appeared for a couple of seconds with all other cars, and then just its front on another scene... By the way, the ad was for the launching of the St. Moritz cigarette, and its director (I thoght he looked familiar and asked) was Luiz Sérgio Person, a great Brazilian director who died a few years later in an accident. He was the father of MTV Brazil VJ Marina and TV presenter Domingas Person...
After my son was born and I bought a brand new Corcel by joining the Ford National Consortium (ah, the '70s), the Triumph lost its space. My little town house didn't have a garage, not even a covered parking space for the car. With much pain in my heart, I sold it, through a car dealer who was a friend of my father, to a collector in Paraná (at least, that's what the dealer told me). Later I learned that the engine locked on the way and the car made the rest of the trip on a tow truck. I guess it didn't like the new owner...
I couldn't find any good photo of the Triumph, just this partial one:

Until today I wish I hadn't sold it. But if one of these days I'm passing by that street again and see a Puma or a Karmann-Ghia in good condition, who knows...

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Grandpa's trunk - vacuum tube radio

This radio was stored for a long time. I recently decided to show it at my office, and luckily, after a few carefully administered blows, it started working as new!
The knobs are missing, But I'm almost sure they're somewhere at the bottom of the trunk; but I'm not sure I'll ever find the Philips symbol...

Some interesting characteristics: this radio is what we call here a "hot tail", meaning that it doesn't employ a transformer for the tubes' filaments: they're connected in series, as Christmas tree lamps. If one of them burns, all of them turn off...

Another economy measure is that, in order to keep the positioning of components simple, the dial is backwards, that is, frequencies decrease from left to right, as shown on the picture of the dial.

The story for my grandson is that grandpa assembled this radio himself, when he was a student of Electronics at Liceu Eduardo Prado. The year? Let's just say that, when new, grandpa listened to many Beatles songs for the first time on this radio...

Monday, January 08, 2007

One month!

Today I celebrate one month as a grandfather, time surely flew! Congratulations to Guilherme!

Saturday, January 06, 2007


Guilherme was baptized today, in the little chapel of the Order of Malta in the church of Our Lady of Brazil.

The whole family was there, filling this beautiful place for such an important event. The photo of the actual baptism is missing for now, because there were so many people taking pictures at the time that I only took one, and it was blurred (due to the emotion?). But sombody else at least registered in my camera the happiness of the parents and grandparents:

Afterwards, we gathered at dad and mom's place to celebrate. Godparents Victor and Ju were all smiles, and nobody else had a chance. It's understandable, they had to enjoy, since they're returning to NY soon. They didn't let Gui go even when it was time for the picture with the parents and the other uncles...

And the person of the day behaved perfectly, very elegant in his special attire for this day, also a gift from his grandparents:

Guilherme, God bless you!

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Grandpa's trunk - slide rule

When I studied Electronics, personal computers were a thing not foreseen even by science fiction, and calculators were mechanical and heavy. The calculation intrument used by engineers and technologists (although this word didn't exist, either) was the slide rule.
Slide rules are analogical computers based on logarithms. An explanation of how they work would be too long to fit in here, but I recommend this site for those who want to learn more about this subject.
As an exercise, try to determine what multiplication is being done on the second picture and its result...

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Back from the holidays...

The folowing is a digest of an article that was published on the New York Times yesterday. My comments are at the end.

"From Father to Son, Last Words to Live By

He drew pictures of himself with angel wings. He left a set of his dog tags on a nightstand in my Manhattan apartment. He bought a tiny blue sweat suit for our baby to wear home from the hospital.

Then he began to write what would become a 200-page journal for our son, in case he did not make it back from the desert in Iraq.

For months before my fiancé, First Sgt. Charles Monroe King, kissed my swollen stomach and said goodbye, he had been preparing for the beginning of the life we had created and for the end of his own.

He boarded a plane in December 2005 with two missions, really — to lead his young soldiers in combat and to prepare our boy for a life without him.

'Dear son,' Charles wrote on the last page of the journal, 'I hope this book is somewhat helpful to you. Please forgive me for the poor handwriting and grammar. I tried to finish this book before I was deployed to Iraq. It has to be something special to you. I’ve been writing it in the states, Kuwait and Iraq.'

The journal will have to speak for Charles now. He was killed Oct. 14 when an improvised explosive device detonated near his armored vehicle in Baghdad. Charles, 48, had been assigned to the Army’s First Battalion, 67th Armored Regiment, Fourth Infantry Division, based in Fort Hood, Tex. He was a month from completing his tour of duty.

On paper, Charles revealed himself in a way he rarely did in person. He thought hard about what to say to a son who would have no memory of him. Even if Jordan will never hear the cadence of his father’s voice, he will know the wisdom of his words.

Never be ashamed to cry. No man is too good to get on his knee and humble himself to God. Follow your heart and look for the strength of a woman.

Charles tried to anticipate questions in the years to come. Favorite team? I am a diehard Cleveland Browns fan. Favorite meal? Chicken, fried or baked, candied yams, collard greens and cornbread. Childhood chores? Shoveling snow and cutting grass. First kiss? Eighth grade.

In neat block letters, he wrote about faith and failure, heartache and hope. He offered tips on how to behave on a date and where to hide money on vacation. Rainy days have their pleasures, he noted: Every now and then you get lucky and catch a rainbow.

Charles mailed the book to me in July, after one of his soldiers was killed and he had recovered the body from a tank. The journal was incomplete, but the horror of the young man’s death shook Charles so deeply that he wanted to send it even though he had more to say. He finished it when he came home on a two-week leave in August to meet Jordan, then 5 months old. He was so intoxicated by love for his son that he barely slept, instead keeping vigil over the baby.

Though as a black man he sometimes felt the sting of discrimination, Charles betrayed no bitterness. It’s not fair to judge someone by the color of their skin, where they’re raised or their religious beliefs, he wrote. Appreciate people for who they are and learn from their differences.

He had his faults, of course. Charles could be moody, easily wounded and infuriatingly quiet, especially during an argument. And at times, I felt, he put the military ahead of family.

He had enlisted in 1987, drawn by the discipline and challenges. Charles had other options — he was a gifted artist who had trained at the Art Institute of Chicago — but felt fulfilled as a soldier, something I respected but never really understood. He had a chest full of medals and a fierce devotion to his men.

Charles knew the perils of war. During the months before he went away and the days he returned on leave, we talked often about what might happen. In his journal, he wrote about the loss of fellow soldiers. Still, I could not bear to answer when Charles turned to me one day and asked, 'You don’t think I’m coming back, do you?' We never said aloud that the fear that he might not return was why we decided to have a child before we planned a wedding, rather than risk never having the chance.

But Charles missed Jordan’s birth because he refused to take a leave from Iraq until all of his soldiers had gone home first, a decision that hurt me at first. And he volunteered for the mission on which he died, a military official told his sister, Gail T. King. Although he was not required to join the resupply convoy in Baghdad, he believed that his soldiers needed someone experienced with them.

When Jordan is old enough to ask how his father died, I will tell him of Charles’s courage and assure him of Charles’s love. And I will try to comfort him with his father’s words.

God blessed me above all I could imagine, Charles wrote in the journal. I have no regrets, serving your country is great.

He had tucked a message to me in the front of Jordan’s journal. This is the letter every soldier should write, he said. For us, life will move on through Jordan. He will be an extension of us and hopefully everything that we stand for. ... I would like to see him grow up to be a man, but only God knows what the future holds."

Dana Canedy, a Pulitzer price winner journalist on the ‘New York Times’, was engaged to First Sgt. Charles King, killed in action in October.

I apologize for making us all return this fast to reality after the holidays, but this article hit a chord in me. As a father and grandfather, I tried to put myself in Sgt. King's place. But, in spite of the tragic beauty of his legacy to his son, I can't help thinking that being alive would have been a much better gift. "Serving your country is great", he wrote. Politicians love theses simplifications. Until people stop to analyze who or what are they really serving, many children will continue growing without their fathers due to war, stray bullets, traffic accidents, lack of medical help, avoidable diseases, poverty...
It would be great if everybody would think about the refrain in John Lennon's song. Seven words, and a truth so simple, but so difficult to make real:

"War is over if you want it..."