Master Prankster

In many countries around the world, April Fool’s Day is celebrated on April 1. This day has been celebrated as far back as 536BC in Iran, where it is called Sizdah Bedar. Iranians play jokes on each other on the 13thday of the Persian new year, which normally falls on April 1 or 2. In Denmark, May 1 is known as May-kat and is a day for playing pranks on other people. Royal family and courtiers in Korea were allowed to fool each other on the first snowy day of the year under the Joseon dynasty. In Spain and in most of Latin America there is also a tradition of pranks, but it is celebrated on December 28. Interestingly, on that day Christians also celebrate the famous Massacre of the Innocents, an infanticide ordered by Herod the Great. Which is why pranks in Spain are called inocentadas. Funny how a massacre can inspire a day for pranks.

Even though the day of the Holy Innocents is celebrated today by Christians, the historical fact itself has been questioned, and some recent biographers of Herod deny it entirely. But, tradition is tradition, and the show must go on. In most countries even the media plays jokes on viewers and readers, publishing absurd or ridiculous stories that day. Playing jokes and hoaxes is just too much fun and everyone has to participate.

Loyal to tradition, Sir Richard Branson played an original prank on everybody a few days ago. The world-famous tycoon and explorer announced his boldest challenge yet: Virgin Volcanic. It was an elaborate prank, because even a website was set up, which included images of the vehicle, that looked like a corkscrew, that would carry, not only Branson, but also actors Tom Hanks and Seth Green and singer Will.i.am, in a maiden voyage to the center of a live volcano. “Experts predict that one could travel from Hawaii to Naples in a couple of hours via the molten lava flows, with passengers boarding and disembarking from a network of “Earthports” close to the world’s volcanoes,” says the Virgin Volcanic website.

Accustomed to Branson’s spectacular enterprises, like Virgin Galactic, the space exploration project, and Virgin Oceanic, his ocean exploration program, a journey to the center of the Earth seemed even possible to many.

Unfortunately though, it was not more than a mischievious joke by the playful Branson. Plunging into a live volcano is something that not even Sir Richard would attempt.

If there were materials that could resist the incredibly high temperatures -more than 1,800 degrees Farenheit (1,000 Celsius)- without melting in minutes, there would still be the density of the magma to deal with and the pressure down there would make it virtually impossible to move around. And how can you navigate molten rock? How can you know where you are? How can you determine your position?

But we have to give it to Sir Richard Branson, for a brief moment there he made us dream. It became the subject of discussions. The fantasies of Jules Verne suddenly seemed at arm’s reach. It opened our minds. Which is what the Branson philosophy is all about anyway, “screw business as usual” and imagine that the impossible can be possible. Being Richard Branson, this is probably only half a joke, he may actually be serious about this and attempt it one day. But in any case, Sir Richard has shown us once again what he is a master at, getting attention. And he surely had some fun in the process.

(To read my article in PDF, go to Master Prankster)

Advertisements

Highway to China

Frustrated by the lack of efficiency and capacity of Brazilian ports, Eike Batista, Brazil’s richest man (and the world´s 7th fortune according to Forbes), decided that he simply could not afford to wait. He would start building himself what will be one of the biggest ports in the world, a project that has already been called the Highway to China.

 

Construction of the future Acu Superport, situated some 400km north of Rio de Janeiro, near São João da Barra, is already underway, and is expected to cost $2.7 billion. The first element of the port complex is a cement causeway, that will have a four-lane highway, pipelines and conveyor belts to transport resources like iron ore (Batista´s main business), soybeans or oil to ships. The causeway extends 3km into the Atlantic Ocean.

We have enormous iron ore mines, so it’s a logistics business, because without logistics we can’t transport to China” Batista says. “There are huge mines and huge oil reserves right in the vicinity of this complex, 85% of Brazilian oil production is within 150 km radius”. The area Batista is developing would include oil refineries, car factories, an energy plant, and will occupy an area bigger than Manhattan. And he wants to run as much of the operation as possible, so it can be truly efficient. When finished, it will be the biggest port in Southamerica and employ more than 50,000 people.

 

The port would not only serve Batista´s companies, but other companies and industries as well. He has also managed to woo foreign investors into sinking money into the development. A Chinese company has already pledged to invest five billion dollars to build a steel factory there.

It is precisely China´s insatiable appetite for iron ore from Batista´s mines and other raw materials, and the painfully slow movement of containers through Brazilian ports, what has led him to come up with this idea. China is currently Brazil’s main export destination in value terms, according to Datamar: a 31%. The US, in contrast, is a distant second, at 11% in 2011.

But he has found in this lack of appropiate infrastructure an incredible opportunity for doing business on an even grander scale, and in the process he will help Brazil be more connected to the world.

 

This year, Ports in Brazil are expecting to handle a billion tons of cargo for the first time, according to estimates by ANTAQ , Brazil’s National Agency for Waterway Transportation. This would mean a 12.3 percent increase compared to 2011. Investments in the past six years have been responsible for these records levels. Batista’s new port will certainly contribute, because it is the single biggest investment in ports in Brazil.

To read my article in PDF, with photo credits, etc: Highway to China.

For more on Brazil-China relations, read this PDF.