Weekly Photo Challenge: Silhouette

What better way to capture a silhouette than during the sunset? Well, that’s my favourite time of the day. It’s a time when a silhouette is, somewhat, more meaningful, when it happens more naturally.

Samppras, my travel companion, always looks very contemplative during sunsets, this time overlooking Itapua Beach in Salvador.

People reading this might think I am mad… ah well!


Beer Economics Review: Amazon Beer Stout Açaí

I am not sure if this is a good idea, but I will publish a quick beer review worth of notice.

My girlfriend, who travels a lot, gave me several beers from local breweries from different parts of Brazil, which is great! Yesterday, we decided to drink it and, my God, what a tasty beer!

I am no beer connoisseur, but I can appreciate a good beer. And I guess it would have won the title of best beer in Brazil! It is quite subtle, coffee-y taste with not much taste of Açaí, still with a relatively high alcohol content. I wouldn’t expect the extremely hot city of Belem to have been able to produce high quality stout, of all beers, but they did the job! If you know anything about brewing, fermenting at constant, relatively low temperature is crucial, as temperature fluctuation can damage the overall body and taste of the beer. Belem do Para is the largest Brazilian city near the Equator with temperatures averaging around 28C throughout the year. It’s located at the Amazon River Delta and, adding all these factors up, it makes it one of the most humid cities on Earth. All these factors make Belem a nightmare for brewers (and for people to cope with the heat too).

Controlling the brewing temperature must cost the brewery a small fortune on heat belts, AC units etc. Also, everything (except the Açaí and water) must be imported, since the city’s climate is unfavourable for the growth of any of the raw products necessary to produce the simplest beers. All of this is reflected in the price. A 330ml bottle can cost you up to £5. These prices are also not compatible with the means of the average Brazilian, so you can only find it for sale in speciality shops and fancy restaurant, which is a pity.

With a GDP per capita of £3809 (£317/month), and 75% of the population living below that line, most of the population won’t be able to afford one single bottle of this lovely beer.

Well, that’s free capitalism for you! A city, which in my opinion, overcame all the difficulties of brewing a quality product, managed to produce something unique, but only for a selected few.

Now that I have calmed down, I can conclude. It’s a very good beer.

Weekly Photo Challenge II: Zig Zag (Quilt)

Published as part of the Weekly Photo Challenge

Before the week is up, I’d like to publish a photo of my quilt. Why?

When I graduated from University, my grandmother gave this quilt as a gift, but it’s a special type of quilt. Not only my grandmother made it, but it has a piece of clothe from most members of the family. Parts of my great-grandmother’s dress, of the dress my aunt left maternity with my cousin, a pocket from my uncle’s first pair of pants, my mom’s dress when she was 15 years old… well, you get where this is going.

It’s more than just a quilt… it is a quilt that my grandmother made that tells the history of our family! Pretty neat, isn’t it?

City of Sao Paulo – Challenging the Driest Places on Earth

Let me introduce you to my home city, but maybe you know about it after the disastrous World Cup… ah well!

With the purpose of explaining the title, Sao Paulo is as close as you can get from the Tropic of Capricorn. It grew very fast over the last 60 years and what used to be pristine atlantic forest, now is a massive pile of concrete with very little trees.

Its climate is classified as humid subtropical. Humid, you say? Yes, during the summer (southern hemisphere summer, that is), due to a lot of nerdy physics stuff, the wind blows mainly from the sea, which can bring a lot of rain. During very particular meteorological conditions, a streak of cloud which extends from the Amazon all the way to Sao Paulo also brings a lot of constant, heavy rain. This fills up reservoirs and keeps the city afloat during the dry season. During the wet season, any rain is enough to flood huge parts of the city… but that’s beside the point.

This year, these monsoon rains didn’t happen. The average summer rain was way below average. Anyway, it happens! But now, what happened as a consequence? Just another quirk of subtropical climates are the dry winter months. Since the summer rains didn’t come, the reservoirs that supply the city with water are down to below 15%, with no rain in sight.

With dry weather, lack of water in a metropolis that lack trees, only has concrete in sight, and with millions of cars stuck in traffic jams all day, the air quality goes way down and dryness go very high up! How high? Yesterday, 6th of August, 2014, some parts of the city register relative humidity down to 18%, according to INMET, the Brazilian Met service. There in no rain forecasted in the days to come with high pressure dominating the weather, it can (and will) get drier.

How dry is this??? Well, yesterday, the city of Bechar, Algeria, which is in the middle of the Sahara Desert registered 14% and the Atacama Desert registered a 12% relative humidity (the driest place on Earth).

Well, in a metropolitan area with nearly 20 million people, this can be a bit of a problem…

What Does Unemployment Rate REALLY Mean?

This post is something that is on a tangent of my usual posts, but something very interesting!

I am not sure if you are all aware of how the statistics for unemployment really work, but I think that finding it out was an eye opener to me. I am writing this as some countries are bragging about their low unemployment rates, but what does this even mean? What does it mean to have a 5% unemployment rate?

No, it doesn’t mean that 5% of the country’s population is unemployed… it doesn’t even mean that 5% of the work force is unemployed… so what is it? I will take the test case of Brazil (because it has a very nice roughly round number and is one of the countries that says that they are wonderful for having a low unemployment rate)

  1. Definition 1: The Brazilian Work Force

Brazil has, currently, 200 million inhabitants (191 million according to the 2010 Census), roughly 100 million between the age of 15 and 65 (See? Nice, round numbers!). This is when brazilian are able to legally hold a job and, therefore, compose the country’s work force. This is according to the 2010 Census. (So, 100 million people are out of the unemployment statistics)

  1. “Bolsa Familia” and the Work Force

“Bolsa Familia” is a government social welfare program that gives a monthly help to families and individuals that receive this government aid. About 50 million people are currently receiving aid from the government and, according to IBGE (the brazilian statistics research body), 65% of them are in the Work Force age, which amounts to 32.5 million people that are not considered unemployed. This amounts to 132.5 million people who are not officially unemployed.

  1. Students, House Husbands/Wives and People who Have Never Looked for Work

If you are a student, have never looked for work and/or are a house husband/wife, you are not part of the statistic. According to the census, Brazil has around 6.7 million of university students. From the same study, around 51% hold a job and 49% have never worked in their lives. It can be safely said that 3.29 million youngsters are out. So, this totals around 135.8 million people in the country.

  1. Early Retirement and Disability

Some people manage to retire before the age of 65 (after a certain number of years of government pension contribution) and some have suffered some illness or accident and are no longer able to work, also don’t fall in the statistic of unemployment. This is a number that I was not able to find anywhere, so I will leave it out.

  1. Informal Work

Informal workers, who hold temporary jobs and don’t pay taxes on their income, are not entitled to pension benefits etc, are somewhat part of the statistic. These are usually very low paying, seasonal jobs that one would not be able to rely to support a family (some aren’t, of course). This is also a very shady number that can only be estimated, but no one has a precise number nor their age group. Since informal workers are not in the system, they can be part of any of the above categories… claim disability, bolsa familia, be retired, students etc. IBGE calculates that around 44.2 million workers (or all ages, under 15 and over 65 inclusive) in Brazil are informal. I am not sure of how many are part of the work force, but no-one really is either. In order to estimate a percentage of the population that are formally employed, pay taxes etc, I can only estimate that just like the population, around 50% of the informal workers are aged 15-65.

  1. Quick Conclusion

So that depression won’t set in, I will stop here, but there probably are some aspects that I am overlooking. So, when taking into account the population that are actively contributing to the country’s economy (people who actively pay taxes on their income), there are roughly 43 ± 22 million formal workers or people who are actively looking for work. Out of these, around 5% are officially unemployed, which means roughly a couple of million only people are actively looking for work.

Phew! This estimation, as you can imagine, is very difficult to have precise numbers due to do overlaps between areas. But when correlating with the fact that 78% of brazilians live below the average GDP per capita of R$2300 (£750) per month and 85% live below the R$4500 per month threshold (£1150), this estimation, somewhat makes sense.

Thank you for reading.

“Still” a Very Nice Cachaça Story – Perpetuating Old Methods

Get it? Get it? Well, bad jokes can be made from time to time, but that’s beside the story.

My family comes from a place in Brazil where they are very proud for traditionally producting the best Cachaça (brazilian native spirit drink) in the country, and rightly so! Some places have modernized the production, making everything precise and what not, some other places remains with production just as it was done back a few decades ago. My granduncle used to be one of them.

No, no… my granduncle is fine! Still alive and well, but this still not so much. My grandaunt and himself had to move away from the farm… and people took advantage of that, unfortunately. Since stills are made from now very valuable copper, they managed to beat down an one hundred year old still and take the metal away while no-one was minding the farm. Sad…

Back a few years ago, I managed to take one single photo of the process of fermentation of the sugar cane juice. It was a highly unscientific process which worked I guess, but no-one understood why. After I decided to take up homebrewing, I started to put the pieces they explained to me together in an attempt to perpetuate old methods.

The sugar cane was extracted from the farm itself, which grew organically (very refreshing to drink the ice-cold juice from them!). The juice was extracted from a mechanical mill.

The juice from the sugar cane, without the addition of water, has around 20g of sugar per 100ml. In brewing terms, this adds to around a specific gravity of 1070, with a potential for 10% ABV (Alcohol By Volume after fermentation). The fermenting bin took 1600L of sugar cane juice.

Time to pitch the yeast, right? Which yeast? All I saw was him generously sprinkling unbleached corn flour on top of the juice. I couldn’t understand for the life of me why that was necessary (Hey, I was young, give me a break!). Later I found out that the corn flour, together with the sugar from the juice, acts as a culture for wild yeast present in the air. A somewhat similar process to how lambic beer and sourdough starters are made. (The photo below shows the fermentation at full steam). From day to day, corn flour would be added to keep the yeast going until the fermentation was done, which took about one week.

The most (fermented alcoholic solution) would be tapped into the still, all the 1600L of it, and heated up. I also never understood why they never let the most boil. The point of distillation is to transfer the alcohol with as little water as possible. As alcohol has a lower boiling point than water, keeping the most from boiling avoids a lot of water being fractionally distilled in the final product. Every time the liquid was about to boil, they would cover the fire with a piece of stone, which slid back and forth just under the bottom of the still.

Quick maths now: 1600L of most at 10% has a potential for 160L of 100% alcoholic solution, so any volume above 160L would just be water. If you have 320L as the end volume, your spirit would be 50% proof. Easy!

Alcohol was produced very nicely… but which alcohol??? I saw the first 5L or so being discarded and throw out… why???? I didn’t get an answer from them, apart that the first 5L could impair your sight. Why? Those first few litres of alcohol were methyl alcohol, or methanol. Methanol has a lower boiling point than ethanol (the good stuff) and comes out first. Our body metabolizes methanol into formaldehyde (taxidermist’s dream fluid!), which damages several parts of the body, mainly the eyes. The rest of the alcohol was ethanol and was saved.

The end volume was 250L of Cachaça. This corresponds to about 73% proof Cachaça, who would drink that, right? Well, from there, it would be put in for storage in barrels. They are not completely sealed and alcohol would evaporate slightly, so the end product would have a lower alcoholic content. Still pretty strong, but ah well!

In order for the alcoholic proof to be brought down before bottling, it would be slightly diluted with water. How much alcohol was in the final product? Well, the final product was tasted and green flagged… that’s how much alcohol there was! As you can imagine, this means that the proof was highly variable from batch to batch… but still, it is very nice to have these memories and know that a piece of history can be preserved!

Activism that Works – With Samppras Carrot

Well, not too long ago, a few minutes in fact, I had a nice comment chat with Gator Woman (Not her name, of course, about conservation, so I decided to make a post about how activism can work. But why with Samppras Carrot? Well, that’s just because the only photo I have left of the place due to the lack of backup is one with my travelling companion (post updated, found another)!

Unfortunately, we live in a society obsessed with money and larger profits, doing anything possible to have more than their neighbours. Well, that’s very unfortunate. Sometimes, the dependence of money and this thirsty is just an attempt to survive, and that’s how the village at Praia do Forte, in the State of Bahia, Brazil, started off. They were fortunate enough to witness one of the most spectacular events in the world: Thousands of sea turtles coming to their beach to lay eggs. For years, the locals relied on the eggs of the turtles and, many times, on the turtles themselves for meat and speciality dishes to attract tourists to the village (Apparently, that’s one of the main reasons the Pinta Island Tortoise (Lonesome George) is now extinct… they were very tasty). As you can probably imagine, this was successful, but only for so long. Very soon, not as many females were coming to the beach anymore and some of the species came close to the brink of extinction (when one depends on them to survive, one will kill until there is nothing left… like the world and petrol).

In came a few oceanography students and, to be brief, started the Projeto TAMAR (Tartaruga Marinha), i.e. The Marine Turtle Project. This project started not by trying to change the law and enforcing it, but by educating the locals. Through a lot of effort and the help of sponsors (Who love having their names attached to conservation projects), they were able to show the locals that they would earn a lot more with tourists, who would come to see the turtles alive than to eat them… and they were right! Tourists from all over Brazil and the World have been flocking down to that paradisiacal beach to visit the project since the mid 80’s. Now the project has connections with several brazilian universities, local school and governments, finances several educational programs and has over 20 bases along the brazilian coast. As per 2008, over 8 million turtles have been released to the sea, many that now return to their birth place to lay their eggs.

Local families have been thriving with the capital that tourism brings to their lives and they have been much better off than when poaching occurred. Samppras can confirm that!