Since American Airlines was offering super cheap roundtrip flights to Manaus, in the Amazon region of north Brazil, I figured I’d jump on it! I booked myself a nice $550 NYC JFK-MAO roundtrip, and thanks to a promotion, I’ll earn double miles on the MIA-MAO segments both ways! I figured this would be awesome! First time in Brazil! Travelling by myself! Not speaking Portuguese! However, a few things happened that made reconsider adventuring here again…
One of the almost-shanty-town areas that are common in Manaus
I got Robbed at Knifepoint…
The first day I was toying all the sights of Manaus. Generally felt pretty safe. Walked all over; posted photos to Facebook.
On my way back a pitter-patter of feet became a pressure at my back, I turned around ( that probably caused the scratch ) and there’s a scrawny campesino with a knock-off kitchen knife telling me he wants my bag, in Portuguese. I’m backing up and telling him in Spanish I have money and going for my wallet. But our mutual incomprehension opens up a gap, and 12 feet is too far. I turn and bolt while he stuffs his salad carver into his pants. Since I assume I must now be in a bad area I head up the opposite direction and go home. It was 3 in the afternoon, and people on the street 50 feet away.
I put some iodine on my scratch which wasn’t too bad, and promptly started chain smoking. I think I was robbed around R. Cel. Sérgio Pessoa and R. Miranda Leão, so keep your wits about you when you’re in the Mercado Municipal area.
Debit Card Skimmer Fraud
I took out some cash at the airport, and came back to find the following charges made after my flight had departed:
09/26/2012 ATM Transaction NON-CHASE ATM WITHDRAW 519173 09/26 TECBAN PR BR Real 1000.00 X 0.4939526 (EXCHG RTE) + 15.00 (EXCHG RTE ADJ $514.88 09/25/2012 ATM Transaction NON-CHASE ATM WITHDRAW 403240 09/25 BANCO DO BR Real 1000.00 X 0.4934100 (EXCHG RTE) + 14.80 (EXCHG RTE ADJ $508.21 09/24/2012 ATM Transaction NON-CHASE ATM WITHDRAW 500187 09/24 BANCO DO BR Real 1000.00 X 0.4941900 (EXCHG RTE) + 14.83 (EXCHG RTE ADJ $509.02
It seems that whoever cloned my card at the airport had been taking out the maximum 1000 reals until I shut them down. I actually don’t know whether it was a skimmer, a hidden camera, or even an entirely fake ATM. When I tried to get cash at the airport, only 1 of 4 ATMs worked, so there are at least three others that could have been entirely fake.
Terrible Airport Service
And it wasn’t AA’s fault! I know they’ve been getting press for seats and things falling off their planes, but in Manaus, it’s the local airport workers who will delay your flight by over an hour, without giving you any updates. And for some odd reason they took my lighter, even though it’s allowed according to TSA regs. They also have a bizarre screening protocol where they ask you about any of your new electronics (to see if they’re fakes containing drugs or bombs), so I told the agent about my new Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7…
We were told “be here from 9:30 – 10:30 strictly” to go through an immigration check. However, waiting to board our plane, we saw people coming through even after the plane was scheduled to take off. So I blame the delay on the airport’s inability to do its job and take off on time, even if it means some could be late.
Not much to do?
There are really two main historical buildings in Manaus, which are the Teatro Amazonas, an old-style opera house/theater, and the Centre of Justice which has an ancient, no longer used, courtroom. The two buildings are nearly adjacent, so if you see one, you’ll see them all! I can even save you the time by posting a quick photo:
If you want to drink, there won’t be a proper pub/bar like you may be used to. Most cervecerias serve you a large bottle, a glass, and a beer coozie (a frozen sleeve to keep your beer cool). While this is imminently enjoyable in the Brazilian heat, you won’t be finding a lot of cocktails or beer on tap.
Crime is ridiculously high
I think, now, every traveller needs to google their destination city + “crime”, as I found Rio drug trade turns Amazon city into crime capital from just a year ago, only after I returned. Some choice quotes:
Rio’s drug conflict has claimed tens of thousands of lives since the 1980s; in Manaus the drug trade is also taking its toll. A growing local market for cocaine has triggered a rise in homicides. Official figures show the number of murders rose over by 9% this year.
If you do go, bring a travel buddy and stay safe. And enjoy an Amazon safari, which is fun, and visit the CIGS Zoo or the Bosque da Ciencia. TripAdvisor has a pretty great list. And the Caesar Business is a great hotel.
I’m looking at two Staples “Easy Rebate” giftcards right now, each of them for $350, and wondering what can I do with them? They expire in just under six months, and have lots of interesting fees and conditions attached, so I am eager to use them up sooner rather than later. However, they are surprisingly hard to use. In spite of being a “debit” card, they tell you always run the transaction as credit, and specify that “ATMs cannot be used to withdraw cash.” I’ve tried:
- Getting a cash advance at the bank for the full amount (declined)
- Charging an Amazon giftcard for the full $350 (declined)
- Talking to a Staples store manager (spent 15m on the phone, no luck)
- Buying Kindle giftcards at an in-store Best Buy (declined)
After I ran the first Amazon attempt, a “test” pre-authorization charge of $1 went through and apparently will stick there for 7 days, so I now have $349 on each card to figure out how to extract:
The cards think they have money. They decline everything!
My next test will be to titrate up Amazon giftcards, starting at $10 and working my way up, and seeing if they will let smaller charges through. 10 minutes later, it worked. So, Staples won’t let you use the card all at once–weird! I’m charging $100 now … success! $200 would make life easier, so trying that now … DECLINED. Alas. Also don’t submit orders > $100 in a row until the first one clears–major yuck.
My advice to you if you go the Staples “Easy” Rebate route is to take the cheque option. It’s far more painless. Check out FrequentMiler’s Staples keeps on giving post where it’s all explained. Just select “I would like to see other options for my reward” when filling out your rebate form, then choose “Select Rebate Check” for the best option.
Steve Jobs, former Apple & Pixard CEO, died on October 5th, 2011, at the age of 56 after a fight with cancer. His life and career was inspiring enough to Apple for them to put up a permanent online memorial of wishes shared by millions around the globe.
- “One of my heros died today. Thank you Steve for changing my world in so many unbelievable and wonderful ways! The world lost so much today.”
- “Thank you for your life well lived. You was able to transform materials into masterpieces of design that help people to be more human.”
- “Dear Mr. Steve: You are the greatest man I never knew…”
I want to challenge this post-mortal view of Steve Jobs as a saint. Jobs’ entire life is a relentess story of episode after episode where his immorality, crass capitalism, and greed shine through every moment. I debated writing a post titled “Steve Jobs: The Embodiment of the 7 Deadly Sins,” but felt that it would be better to simplify Jobs’ personal flaws into more simple categories. You all know what he did well, the companies that prospered under his unforgiving hand; now, perhaps after reading this article you can bring some balance to the other side of the scale of Steve Jobs’ life.
Selfish & Above the Law
Credit to Flickr user Acaben for the photo
Do you remember the liver transplant Steve Jobs received in April 2009? He flew 2,000 miles from Northern California to the Methodist University Hospital Transplant Institute in Memphis, Tennessee, where the waitlist of organs is about 80% shorter. How did he get in line for a transplant organ in another state? He multiple-listed by buying homes to meet the residents requirements of the foreign states. The shady process has since been stopped, but was, at the time, legal:
Transplant centers cannot stop anyone from registering as a potential recipient at multiple locations, said UNOS’ Dr. Higgins. So long as patients meet the clinical evaluation criteria, can afford to pay and have access to follow-up care there is nothing in theory to stop the rich from listing themselves at many different centers.
Someomewhere in Tennessee, there’s was a sick/dying patient who had to wait longer for his new liver, because Steve Jobs bought his way to the top of the list. Topping it off, as he had terminal cancer, he should have been consider ineligible. However, due to different admission criteria in different states, Jobs could throw out money to find the state with lax enough criteria to put him on the list. And because he was terminally ill, of course, he found himself at the top of the list:
Transplant chief, Dr. James Eason said “He received a liver transplant because he was … the sickest patient on the waiting list at the time a donor organ became available.”
Another great example of Steve Jobs’ willful contravention of the spirit of the law is with his “no-plates” Mercedes car, which he drove without license plates, legally under the rule of law which required plates to be affixed after the car was 6 months old. Jobs, of course, “made an arrangement with his Mercedes leasing company in which he would exchange cars every six months; trading for an identical Mercedes each time. As iTWire puts it: “At no time would he ever be in a car as old as six months; and thus there was no legal requirement to have the number plates fitted.”
Such an arrangement would be unlikely to be offered or accepted from mere mortals like you or me, but Jobs could flaunt his wealth and status to secure the means to pursue an arbitrary loophole in the law to stroke his massive ego.
Poor Personal Judgement
When Apple came out with the LISA computer system in 1976, Steve Jobs claimed it was named after the acronym “Local Integrated Software Architecture.” Years later, he recanted, saying “Obviously, it was named for my daughter.” But in her childhood years, fighting in courts to avoid paternity, Jobs claimed he was “sterile and infertile, and as a result thereof, did not have the physical capacity to procreate a child.” Does this make Jobs a psycopathic liar? Or does their subsequent reconciliation show his human side?
If you had treatable cancer, would you go to a doctor and have it cut out? Or would you complain, as Jobs did, “‘I really didn’t want them to open up my body” and wait 9 months. Steve Job’s insane decision to resort to alternative medicine to treat his pancreatic tumor because he “believed in alternative herbal treatments” shows absurd personal judgement. Among the “alternative treatments” he tried were “a vegan diet, acupuncture, herbal remedies and other treatments he found online, and even a psychic.”
SJ is god, right?
I’ve written before about Apple’s arbitrary app censorship and once sent Steve Jobs the following email:
Reading your interchange with Gawker writer Ryan Tate, I have to comment on the closed-off app store approach, and the idea that some content/applications are inappropriate for public consumption. I appreciate fully the technical beauty of the iPhone/iPad approval process, vetting apps to make sure of their quality and trustworthiness. Better battery life, no malware, and an overall positive experience have made the iPhone/iPad platform what it is.
But, banning applications that challenge your particular sense of morality is wrong. Whether it’s political satire, crude tasteless humour, or porn, consumer and individuals deserve an open platform and the freedom of choice to determine what to watch, read, and play. Mark these apps as objectionable (like you mark “explicit” music in iTunes) and force users to prove they’re adults if you must.
Steve Jobs wanted to control the entire Apple user experience, so he mandated that the iPhone platform would be a walled garden–only his preferred applications would be allowed. In the classic greek definition of hubris, Jobs decided to play god of the playground, a petty move that artificially restricts the richness of the iOS platform.
Apple’s stolen apps
It’s well known that Jobs’ hubris extends to the level where he believes that no original idea can be conceived outside of the Apple ecosystem. As evidence, take a look at the long list of iPhone applications that Apple has ripped-off wholesale:
- WiFi syncing – Functionality and Icon stolen
- MobileNotifier – Ripped off into iOS5
- SnapTap’s volume-button-to-shoot feature
- Where Too’s interface was subsequently “patented” by Apple
I’m sure there’s a clause in the Apple/iPhone development agreement that says “If you develop for the iPhone platform and have a great idea that we like, Apple reserves exclusive rights to the intellectual property and to develop it in the future. In Steve Jobs’ mind, no true iOS/iPhone innovation can come from outside Apple–therefore, any applications developed in the iOS ecosystem whose features are subsequently ripped off and made iPhone/iOS features are merely the cobblestones paving the road to greatness.
Apple came in nearly last place in the inaugural edition of Greenpeace’s Guide to Greener Electronics in 2006, scoring just 2.7/10:
For a company that claims to lead on product design, Apple scores badly on almost all criteria. The company fails to embrace the precautionary principle, withholds its full list of regulated substances and provides no timelines for eliminating toxic polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and no commitment to phasing out all uses of brominated flame retardants (BFRs). Apple performs poorly on product take back and recycling, with the exception of reporting on the amounts of its electronic waste recycled.
Apple’s products, manufactured in China, have been criticized for using polluting supplies and plants. Some years later, Apple has improved their processes and now ranks 4.6/10 on the scale. Apple, prodded into compliance by public scrutiny and Greenpeace, has reduced the toxic chemicals used in their products, such as lead, cadmium, arsenic, and other heavy metals. Despite this, note that under Jobs, Apple got their start peddling products contaminated with toxic chemicals, doing an intense amount of damage to the environment.
Apple’s assembler Foxconn is one of the world’s leading exploiters of human capital. Based in China, they work their employees so hard that one of them, Chen Long, died at the ripe old age of 23, having worked continuously for weeks under long hours and harsh conditions. Workers earn a few hundred dollars a month assembling iPhones and other Apple devices, but the conditions are so bleak that between January and November 2010, eighteen Foxconn employees committed suicide.
After getting poor press, Foxconn has improved their wages, invested in robotics, installed netting to prevent jumpers, and asked employees to sign “no suicide” pledges. Now they’re a right jolly place of employment!
From the earliest, pre-Apple days, Steve Jobs was looking for an edge over his partners and associates. This story, courtesy of Wikipedia, sets the stage perfectly. Jobs was hired by Atari to produce a circuit-board layout for their arcade game Breakout:
Jobs noticed his friend Steve Wozniak was capable of producing designs with a small number of chips, and invited him to work on the hardware design with the prospect of splitting the $750 wage. Wozniak had no sketches and instead interpreted the game from its description. To save parts, he had “tricky little designs” difficult to understand for most engineers. In the end 50 chips were removed from Jobs’ original design. This equated to a US$5,000 bonus, which Jobs kept secret from Wozniak, instead only paying him $375.
“Backdated” stock Options
Have you heard of options backdating? Basically, bigwigs wanted to grant their employees lucrative compensation while avoiding complicated tax issues–ie paying more corporate tax for the “in the money” options classification. So they backdated them to cherry-picked dates, taking advantage of vague wording in the compensation clauses to “spring load” their option grants. Under the newer SarbOX rules, companies have to declare such options grants within two days, vastly narrowing the window. According to the New York Times, “Apple has acknowledged that Mr. Jobs was aware of backdating but said he did not benefit financially from it and did not understand the accounting implications.”
Apple’s Charitable Giving
Steve Jobs’ attitude towards charity is unbelievable in an age where America’s leading CEOs and technologists like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet have pledged to give their fortunes to improving the world. Walter Isaacson, Steve’s official biographer, refused to speak about his attitude to philanthropy, except to deflect that it was “unspeakable.” When he took over the helm of Apple as CEO, all charitable giving by the company ceased. Apple did not have a corporate donation-matching program until September, 2011. For an interesting look into the world’s most famous misanthrope, give Andrew Ross Sorkin’s The Mystery of Steve Jobs’s Public Giving a read.
As Richard Stallman said about Steve Jobs, “I’m glad he’s gone. [W]e all deserve the end of Jobs’ malign influence on people’s computing.” On the other hand, Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs just came out; you can read the other side of the story for yourself. Malcolm Gladwell has also written a hilarious troll THE TWEAKER: The real genius of Steve Jobs for the New Yorker.