No-Touch Typing for Disabled

Paulo Rebêlo Wired News December 2002 In Brazil, physically disabled individuals may no longer need to buy expensive software to operate computers and surf the Web, thanks to a free application developed by programmers at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. By downloading a program called Motrix, disabled people can read, write and interact with their computers using an embedded voice-recognition system. Motrix allows the user to perform nearly all computerized tasks, including playing games, and Motrix may be integrated with home automation services. It was created especially for quadriplegics, who number about 200,000 in Brazil, according to the most recent census. Since quadriplegics cannot operate a computer without assistance, voice-recognition alternatives make life a bit easier, but they are usually quite expensive. “Motrix changes this situation because it’s free and doesn’t have to be imported from another country,” José Antônio dos Santos Borges, Motrix’s main programmer, said. The system was developed by the Electronic Computation Nucleus, or NCE, a group of technicians and engineers who have been creating adaptable software at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro since 1994. Motrix is a revised version of Dosvox, which is known worldwide as one of the best adaptable software

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In Brazil, Blog Is Beautiful

Paulo Rebêlo Wired News September, 2002 Weblogs certainly have a worldwide audience. Still, no one’s quite sure what makes them so hot in Brazil. One of the leading countries in registered blogs at Blogger, Brazil has recently gotten its own local version of Pyra Labs’ creation — translated into Portuguese and complete with additional features, such as file upload and drafting. Hosted by Globo.com, the Internet arm of Rede Globo — Brazil’s biggest TV and entertainment network — the Brazilian Blogger registered 16,000 users in its first week in late August, Globo officials said. Although Globo’s offering is the first international version of Blogger, it’s not the first Brazilian blogging service. As soon as blog fever took hold, iG — the only survivor of the free-ISP boom in Brazil — launched a blogging site called BliG. According to Alessandra Blanco, iG’s director, the year-old service has about 45,000 registered weblogs. Add to the mix Brazil’s homegrown blogging service, Weblogger, founded in August 2001 by four computer enthusiasts. Despite a few initial glitches, Weblogger has grown quickly. The service has more than 100,000 users and adds about 1,000 new blogs a day, said Iglá Lear Generoso, business director for Weblogger. But

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Emoting in a Cold Digital World

Paulo Rebêlo Wired News August, 2002 Imagine a celebration of digital art that bans works focusing on anything related to computers and technology. This is the idea behind Art.Ficial Emotion, an international exposition featuring digitally produced art created at some of the leading media centers worldwide. The main objective of Art.Ficial Emotion is to provide an environment that breaks the old-fashioned notions that “digital” is something cold or inaccessible. In the month-long exposition that begins Sunday in São Paulo, technology is just the form in which emotion is expressed. Besides the exposition, at the Itaú Cultural center until Aug. 14, there’s a round of seminars and workshops where artists will be able to share their thoughts about their pieces and the future of digital art. There are 38 digital creations, ranging from robots to virtual reality. Lev Manovich, author of the book Language of New Media and a professor at the visual arts department at the University of California, San Diego, will give the opening speech. His book is known as the first rigorous theorization of new medias and art. For many artists, it’s the most complete in the history of media since Marshall McLuhan. Artists from around the globe

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Brazilians’ Spin: Remix Music Biz

Paulo Rebêlo Wired News July, 2002 In the eyes of many musicians and artists in Brazil, popular music as a form of pleasure and art ended in the Western world long ago. The mixing of music with commerce isn’t a new concept, but the introduction of file-sharing on the Web has turned attention to the problems generated by this marriage in an unprecedented way. Now, a group of musicians, software engineers, DJs, professors, journalists and computer geeks — who have named their cause Re:combo — have decided to “call for noise” against the current rules of copyright established by the music industry. Re:combo (think of recombining the music) is based on two ideas: sharing the work of making music for free, and inviting people from all over the world to create something different. Re:combo members first create music and then share it freely over their website using the MP3 format. “People are not only invited to download the files but to modify them, creating different samples, remixes and stuff,” said Miguel Pedrosa, singer and history professor. “That is, creating new music experiences with different styles and sounds.” Members donate time, ideas and creativity in a collaborative, Internet-based work environment that

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Take Two Candies, Call in Morning

Paulo Rebêlo Wired News June, 2002 Few people enjoy taking medicine, but how about if it came packaged in candy or ice cream? That’s what the Brazilian National Association of Magistral Pharmaceutics (Anfarmag) is bringing to Brazil this year. In an official note earlier this month, Anfarmag said that med-candies are the best solution for kids who face problems swallowing pills or just can’t stand the taste of some medicine. “Children don’t refuse medicine when they taste and are shaped like a lollipop, for example,” says Marco Perino, Anfarmag’s vice president. The idea of dispensing medicine in candy form has been a controversial subject for more than 50 years, with the primary concern centering on the fear of overdose. “The dangers may outweigh the benefits,” said Dr. Humayun J. Chaudhry, chairman of the Department of Medicine at the New York College of Osteopathic Medicine. “Adults are able to tell the difference between candies and medication, but it would certainly not be realistic to expect the same thing from children.” Even for adults, he added, there’s the constant risk of overdose or wrong dosage. It’s far more likely for someone to swallow an entire pill than eat an entire lollipop. In

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Brazil: Let’s Go Postal

Paulo Rebêlo Wired News May 2002 In another attempt to close the gap between the wired and the unwired, Brazil will install computer kiosks in post offices around the country, where people will be able to log on to the Internet. Correios, Brazil’s postal agency, hopes to have the kiosks up and running by the end of June, officials said. People will be able to surf the Web and retrieve e-mail. As a way of encouraging people to use the service, the first 10 minutes will be free. After that, the agency plans to charge what it calls a “popular fee.” Payment will be made using an electronic card purchased from Correios or one of its partners. Correios plans to have at least one computer in each of Brazil’s 5,366 post offices. The technical specs — things like computer type and Internet access speed — have yet to be determined. Private companies will bid for the project, so the actual cost of establishing these kiosks remains unclear. Regardless of the cost, however, officials promise that customers will not be gouged. “Of course we intend to charge a very low price, at least lower than cybercafes,” said Fausto Weiler, Correios’ assessor

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Modified Crops Go Underground

Paulo Rebêlo Wired News May 2002 An illegal but well-known underground market for genetically modified crops is growing fast in Brazil. But oftentimes, farmers who bought the seeds with promises of better yields at lower costs have reaped financial disasters and plantation damages instead. The problem seems to stem not from defective genetically modified organism (GMO) crops, but from a lack of understanding by farmers who purchase the crops, which are supposedly imported from Argentina or from other regions of Brazil. The upshot is that crops that may work well in their native soils don’t react well when transported. “(It is) pure lack of information from most farmers,” said Ywao Miyamoto, president of the Brazilian Association of Soy Producers (Aprosoja). “Crops have very specific properties of adaptability that vary from place to place, weather to weather, altitude to altitude, and a range of factors. If you plant an Argentine crop in a Brazilian soil, obviously you’ll get a very weak production.” James H. Orf, a professor in the Department of Agronomy and Plant Genetics at the University of Minnesota in St. Paul, says it’s often a case of carelessness or wishful thinking. “That’s well known by most farmers, but sometimes

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Brazil on Piracy: Just Say No

Paulo Rebêlo Wired News March 2002 Frustrated by a government that either can’t or won’t address epidemic levels of commercial piracy, a broad coalition of Brazilian industry created an advertising campaign it hopes will appeal to Brazilians’ sense of fair play and economic self-interest. The industries of software, music, clothes, toys, cable TV and movies have mounted a $1.5 million national campaign that will include ads in television, newspapers and online outlets. The message is that piracy that hurts Brazilian companies, in turn, hurts Brazilians in their own pocketbooks, both in higher prices and loss of jobs. According to reports from the Interactive Digital Software Association, Brazil lost $303 million to pirates in 2001. The IDSA also claims that 99 percent of entertainment software in Brazil consists of illegal copies; for corporate software, it’s 58 percent. While piracy is rampant everywhere, it is particularly acute in a country such as Brazil — which has a thriving consumer base, but an economic system in which workers make significantly less than their American counterparts. That economic picture is what makes the temptation to purchase pirated products so strong. And it’s why this advertising campaign may be doomed to failure, and why critics

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All the Ink That’s Fit to Print

Paulo Rebêlo Wired News March 2002 In the United States, printer companies reap most of their profits by selling ink cartridges rather than the printers themselves. That’s not necessarily true in Brazil, where remanufactured ink cartridges sell for less than half the price of the original. Despite efforts by big companies to convince consumers that retread cartridges might damage their printers, Brazilians continue flocking to the refills, apparently figuring that the risk is offset by the printers’ relatively inexpensive cost. These “reconditioned” cartridges, as they are often called, are neither illegal nor considered pirated, as long as they are labeled as being refilled. And with the costs of printers going down while the prices of new cartridges continues rising, reconditioned cartridges are becoming more and more popular. An average printer, such as a HP 840C, costs about $140 in Brazil. A 640C model goes for $115, about the same price of an Epson C40UX. Black ink cartridges cost around $35 each, and a color one can go for around $45, depending on the model. In other words, a couple of black-ink cartridges with a color one thrown in cost as much as a new printer. Remanufactured cartridges, meanwhile, run between

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