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Current location: Living room of apartment, Boquete, Panama

07.04.11

Price of beer in a bar: US$0.60 if you’re not picky about where. There’s a bar I like nearby, nothing exciting, where it’s US$0.75.
Song currently stuck in my head: 16 Military Wives (The Decemberists)

The activities of an alleged local thievery ring, targeting computer equipment and, of course, the data they contain, finally got me around to encrypting my email store. I’d read about “Ozzie” on the forums before, and apparently he’s back in town. From everything we’ve heard, burglaries are somewhat common here and robberies are unheard of. Some people don’t know the difference, so let me explain: robberies involve confrontation. If you never met the guy who took your macbook, you were burgled. It’s also god’s way of telling you to get a decent OS, but that’s beside the point. If a guy jammed a gun in your back and said “give me the backpack” you were robbed. The “burglary normal/robbery rare” dichotomy is common in this region and you can use it to feel out how “safe” a place is. Don’t immediately get bent out of shape if you hear about local “break-ins”; find out if anyone was home. You might want to avoid areas with a noticeable rate of home invasions, but if it’s just a burglary you might consider just getting some bars on your windows and doors (the norm all over the region). At first seeing bars everywhere can be off putting to Americans; it was to me. We only see that in impoverished, high-crime areas of American cities. In my hometown there’s nothing between you and your bank teller. In the wrong part of an American city there’s 2 inch lexan barier between you and a gas station attendant, even at noon. That’s the kind of scene we associate bars with.

Down here it doesn’t imply much about the neighborhood. You want to leave your windows open a lot of the time and with bars in place you can do that with confidence, even if you run off to take care of some errands.

I spent a summer staying with some family friends; a cop in an otherwise peaceful Midwestern City. He kept his front screen door locked all summer because there was a rash of break-ins where people were getting cleaned out while they were in their own back yards. This guy had a police prowler in the drive, was in the know and still took this precaution. After that window bars seem like a no brainer to me.

But, back to the data theft…

I had already configured my web browsers to delete personal data every time I close them (in Firefox this is called “private browsing”, all browsers have a similar option). You do this so that someone who steals your computer can’t see what websites (your bank, for example) you’ve been visiting. I had not bothered to encrypt my email (I store email on my computer rather than just using a web-based service like gmail), until now. I recommend truecrypt, btw.

Other experts will tell you that only full disk encryption offers a reasonable assurance of privacy, but that’s no magic bullet. Someone who hacks your system (a remote intruder or an unscrupulous IT support person you’ve hired) or steals it while it’s running can still get access to all of that encrypted data. These things are always a Faustian bargain between ease of use, performance and security.  For instance, disabling your browser’s history means no websites recognize you (that’s the point, after all), so you spend a lot of time remembering and entering credentials.

The Girlfriend and I have both been hitting the gyms here in Boquete regularly.  Her’s is Getsemani, mostly a cardio joint with a bow-flex like machine and an additional weight stack device.  Mine is Pilo’s (both of these are about a block off the central square) and is almost exclusively a weight room.  They each cost US$25/month for unlimited use, though Getsemani also required a one-time membership fee of US$10.

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