Wealth International, Limited (trustprofessionals.com) : Where There's W.I.L., There's A Way

W.I.L. Offshore News Digest :: August 2010

This Month’s Entries :


Turning Tolstoy on his ear, the real estate broker writing this article finds that unhappy expats are all alike, at least in some basic ways, while every happy expat is happy in his or her own way. What are the signal characteristics of the unhappy expats?

Having one or more of these three characteristics: (1) Being unhappy to begin with. Moving to a new place, especially one where so much is different, will not change that. (2) They have gotten themselves into financial trouble, often by investing their nest egg in a business which fails (as most start-ups do). (3) They want their new country to be something that it isn’t, and refuse to accept and adjust to that fact. That does not work. Focusing on the positive and the things you can change and letting the rest go works.

A couple years ago, Malcolm Gladwell wrote an article for The New Yorker about how there are certain jobs that defy our ability to predict who will be successful and who will fail once they are hired. The article cited schoolteachers and professional American football quarterbacks as two examples of jobs where almost nothing we can learn about a candidate before he is hired will tell us how well he will do in the job. The article got me thinking about the many people I have seen succeed, and the few I have seen fail, transitioning from a developed country to our little corner of a developing one.

I am a real estate broker in Casco Antiguo with Arco Properties, a walled colonial town that abuts bustling Panama City. During my six years in the business, I have sold or rented to approximately 120 foreigners. I even married one. All of these people brought their hopes and dreams to my country. They came excited to make a new life for themselves. The vast majority have flourished. They have built businesses, started families, made friends (and in some cases fortunes). They have engineered a special lifestyle for themselves they could never have anywhere else and, I am sure, will never return to their home countries. They are now hyphenated Panamanians; part of a growing diaspora of developed world expats who I believe will prove to be one of the great sea changes of this century.

But a few wound up regretting their decision to move. Somehow Panama did not live up to their expectations. The trials and frustrations of a developing country, the inefficiencies, the disorganization took their toll and pushed these people past their breaking point. But everyone here, particularly foreigners, are subject to the same conditions, so why do some foreigners thrive while others become frustrated, burnt out and eventually leave?

I had both personal and professional reasons for wanting to be able to better predict who would transition successfully and who would fail. Obviously, unhappy clients are bad for business, and part of a realtor’s role is to help her clients make the right decision for themselves, but in my case it is even more personal than that. In a small historic district like ours, your clients are your neighbors and your neighbors are your friends. You want everyone to be happy. To see someone slowly burn out and become frustrated, knowing that at some level they relied on you to make such a large life decision is a heavy burden.

So I meditated on the question and analyzed case-by-case the happy and the unhappy expats I had dealt with here. As I did, I began to see some patterns emerge. It is nothing scientific – and probably could not be since you never really know what is going on inside someone else’s mind – but it has given me some insights that help me better counsel my clients. The context is people moving from a developed country to a historic district in a Latin American country because that is what I know, but I would think that the insights apply to anyone moving from a developed country to a less developed one.

For those who feel there might be a fit between them and a historic district like our Casco, I am publishing a separate series that goes into the nuts and bolts of successfully engineering what we have come to (half-kiddingly) refer to a Cosmotropical life style in our historic district.


In the famous opening line of Ana Karenina, Tolstoy says “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” My father-in-law is fond of saying that old Leo got it backwards: it is the unhappy families that are all alike – they have got one of several problems – money, infidelity, substance abuse, love gone cold, kid issues – but the happy families each have their own special little chemistry that keeps them together despite the vicissitudes of life, and that chemistry defies being reduced to a formula.

I tend to think my father-in-law is right, and that his philosophy applies to expats. When I look back at my list of hundreds of expats I have known, it is much easier to see patterns among the few who left than the majority who stayed. Not that there are not things to learn from the happy expats, it is just that there are fewer things that I would consider predictors. Below I have touched on the three main predictors of unhappiness, and in the second part of this article I will look at some of the ingredients I have seen in the chemistry of the happy expats.

1. If you are not happy anywhere, you will not be happy here.

In my experience, the most frequent cause of unhappiness among expats is that they were simply unhappy people to begin with. Somehow they had convinced themselves that “getting away from it all” and “starting over” in a new place would bring them true happiness. I have now become very attuned to people who quickly dive into stories of how unfair life has been to them, the complaints, the broken relationships they need to get away from. My advice when I hear it is “get a shrink” – expatriating is not the answer.

If you feel on the verge of a nervous breakdown, moving to a developing country is probably the worst thing you can do. You need a predictable, stable environment, where you can focus on yourself, work through your issues and repair your relationships. You may have an idealized conception of the tropics as more laid back, less regulated, less stressful, but unless you are on holiday, it takes a while before it becomes those things. For your first couple of years it is tough. It bumps you around, it challenges your assumptions of what is logical, fair, right. If you are not very comfortable in your own skin and do not have good coping mechanisms the developing world will make you more nuts than you already are.

2. The best way to become a millionaire in Latin America is to start with a billion.

The second most common reason for unhappy expats in my experience is that they get themselves into financial trouble. This is most often the case with entrepreneurs, which many expats here tend to be.

It is well known that most new businesses fail within the first two years. It is also well known that it is more risky to start a business in an environment you are not familiar with than it is to start one in your own back yard.

It is therefore astounding to me how many people move to Panama and put their life savings at risk starting a business in an industry they do not know, where they do not speak the language, know the customs or have personal networks. Sitting bleary-eyed in your New York office at 3:00 a.m. behind a pile of papers, you might convince yourself that opening a bar in a tropical paradise like Panama is a quaint, stress-free way to make a living, but ask yourself: Would I take the risk on the exact same thing down my own block? If not, listen to your own excuses for not doing it on your own turf: too much competition, too many legal hassles, cost of living too high, don’t know anything about bars ...

Well, the deck is stacked against you even more here. It is certainly possible – but you cannot go in making unsupported assumptions about the time things take, the cost of doing things right (meaning at the level you are accustomed to), who you can trust or the quality of the labor pool. You must do your homework and leave large cushions of time and capital, otherwise you are very likely to find yourself a very unhappy expat for a very good reason: you are broke.

It is too early in my area’s development to really know the failure rate for expat businesses, but of the 30 or so I have seen open, only a few have failed. I think the reason it is not higher is because this is a fast-growing market and often expats come in with insights into where the market is heading that makes up for some of their other competitive disadvantages. If they have a decent idea, enough capital and stick it out long enough they normally do fine, and some even get rich. But my experience is that the best bet is to have a nest egg or a source of income outside of Panama that allows you to take advantage of its low cost of living without being overly exposed to its tricky business climate. If you want to dabble in a side business to see how it goes, great. But whatever you do, do not take one big roll of the dice on a bumpy felt like this one. And if you do and it goes wrong, please do not blame the country – statistics say it probably would have happened at home.

3. Living in your own private Panama.

The previous two reasons account for almost all of the unhappy expats I have seen. There is another condition that often accompanies one or both of the others that I define as unrealistic expectations. Essentially, these are people who want Panama to be something that it simply is not and when they realize it, they refuse to adjust and become unhappy because they feel that they have been betrayed.

If naivety is a legitimate excuse, then this feeling is justified; there is an unlimited amount of propaganda floating around on the internet selling Panama as a species of tropical paradise that it is not (and nowhere else could be). If you are expecting paradise, pretty much anything that really exists in this world is going to disappoint you.

What I have learned to listen for in this respect are the words “should” and “ought.” If someone recently arrived in Panama frequently mentions that “Panama should” do this, or “they ought” to do the other, I can be pretty certain that this person will soon become an unhappy expat. Whether or not they are correct on their observations, the fact that they are focused on how things should be rather than trying to understanding why they are the way they are tells me that they probably do not have the coping skills they need to deal with this imperfect environment. It has got its good and its bad; the job of the expat is to do his research before moving to make sure that the rough edges between his personality and Panama are a good fit.

Interestingly though, I have found that quite often the things they think “should” be, if done, would create exactly the circumstances that they say they did not like in their home country. A typical case is when people find out that there is no real cause of action for negligence here. They claim to hate the litigiousness of the U.S., but the first time they step in an open manhole they think that they ought to be entitled to compensation.

The key to happiness here, as anywhere, is focusing on the positive and the things you can change and letting the rest go. As an expat, it is important to have the cultural intuition and curiosity that allows you to understand why things are the way they are. Everyone, including locals, occasionally meanders into the land of should and ought, but living there is a sure fire way to make yourself miserable no matter where you are.

Read the source article.


Moving abroad in order to achieve greater personal freedom is a subject we keep beating on here. People making that move would usually look for a climate where it is not so cold in the winter, and perhaps not so stifling at the peak of summer either, as well. With a move to a location with greater freedom and nicer weather come all kinds of ancillary benefits, if you conciously apply yourself to taking advantage of the opportunities.

This article from Escape from America briefly outlines some health and wellbeing improvement opportunities from retiring abroad: “There are many easy ways we can improve the quality of our lives and the health and wellbeing we enjoy. In retirement when we have more time to dedicate to ourselves we should make it part of our everyday life to do that little something that will improve the way we feel.” Sounds like pre-retirement people would benefit too, once you give up the busy-ness racket.

We are all well aware of the term “having a bad hair day” – after all most of us have suffered at least one of these in our lifetime, even you men out there reading this! But as time takes its toll on our bodies and the stresses of life catch up with us, have you ever caught sight of yourself in the mirror and though “Oh my goodness, I’m turning into my mother/father/great aunt Ethel?” If you have, then you have experienced a bad age day!

None of us are immune to such an occurrence because sometimes the weight of the world we live in can really drag our energy levels down, and this can immediately be reflected in less than luminous skin, lifeless hair, tired eyes and deepening frown lines. But who wants to look in the mirror and see an aged parent staring straight back at them?

Fortunately, for retirees who have managed to shake off a lot of their previous stresses by making the move to a paradise abroad, bad age days needn’t be a regular occurrence because turning back the years and keeping old age at bay begins with feeling young at heart.

Those of us who have made the bold move to live a better life in retirement, to go in search of a better climate, an improved lifestyle, a lower cost of living and a more laid back pace of life have taken the most important step on the road to a happy retirement ... and in this report today I am going to show you 10 ways that your new life abroad will help enhance your wellbeing. In other words, here are 10 ways that your new life will keep you looking and feeling younger!

(1) A warm climate, like the one many retirees choose to live in, encourages the body to sweat out toxins, and naturally anyone living in a hot country finds themselves drinking more water. Water is critically important to stop skin from drying out and to prevent the body from becoming dehydrated. Dry skin is sad skin and a bad age day nightmare – so keep yourself topped up with water and avoid dehydration as a result. Have a glass with your breakfast and before your meals, and don’t forget to take a glass to bed with you in case you get thirsty in the night. By the way, if you drink a glass of water before meals this has the added benefit of making you feel fuller and ensuring you don’t over eat and add on extra weight through excess calorie intake!

(2) Oily fish is often easily and affordably accessible if you are living in a seaside paradise in retirement – and oily fish is high in Omega 3, one of the body’s essential fatty acids that helps keep your brain alert – and Omega 3 has also been shown to help prevent heart disease. Clearly oily fish is therefore another essential element in fighting some of the effects of older age! Make sure you indulge at least 2 or 3 times a week and enjoy oily fish as part of an overall healthier diet.

(3) Buy in to the laid back lifestyle you are living in and learn to rest! Whether you take a daily siesta like the locals do, or you just take some time out in the day to meditate or put your feet up and enjoy a nice cool drink, make sure you have an enforced period of rest every day. You need to destress and quite literally take the weight off your feet to aid circulation and to let your mind, body and spirit relax!

(4) Leading on from this point, as we get older many of us experience disturbed sleep patterns – and did you know that a survey of older Americans done in 2003 showed that the healthier a respondent was, the more regular sleep pattern they enjoyed! So, developing a healthy sleep pattern is important. It is just not true that the more we age the less sleep we need – however, it is true that some people can “survive” on very little sleep! But the keyword here is “survive” – if you want to be healthy, you need to get a decent night’s sleep every night. If your bedroom is too hot you will find it harder to sleep. If you drink too much caffeine or alcohol in the afternoon and evening this can affect the quality of sleep you get. You can “catch up” on sleep, and power naps can refresh you – but ideally you need to do everything you can to ensure that every night you are sleeping well. Address any issues head on, and if this means you sleep in a separate bed alongside your spouse, (because sleeping apart can help some people get better rest), then so be it for the good of your health.

(5)The sun ages and damages our skin – and yet it has beneficial effects for our general feeling of wellbeing. So, we all need to learn to stay safe in the sun no matter what age we are, and thanks to Cancer Research UK there is a very simple code to follow – the SMART code ... Spend time in the shade when the sun is at its most intense between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Make sure you never burn your skin. Aim to always cover up with a hat, sunglasses and a t-shirt. Remember to take extra care with your grandchildren and their delicate skin and Then use a high factor sunscreen of at least SPF 15.

(6) Don’t lose that loving feeling – do not take your spouse or partner for granted because research has proven that the more active your positive thoughts are about your partner, the more loving your relationship will be. In other words, you need to consistently and consciously appreciate each other and remember what it is about your partner that you love if you want to keep your love active and alive. Living in a new nation is a challenge, and one you will be working through together – so use the experience to draw you closer and reinforce the loving bond between you.

(7) Leading on from that, a study by the Royal Edinburgh Hospital in Scotland has shown that having regular sex can lead to you looking up to 10 years younger! The survey showed that respondents who found time for sex at least three times a week had a more youthful complexion and were healthier. In part this is because sex is a calorie burning exercise that pumps oxygen round the body and therefore boosts the circulation and the supply of nutrients to the skin, and in part for women at least, sex helps trigger the production of a particular human growth hormone that helps keep them looking younger!

(8) If you prefer alternative forms of exercise, living in a warm country can make swimming one of the most desirable pursuits – and fortunately, swimming is one of the best forms of exercise for older bodies. It is a non-stress form of exercise that burns calories, builds strength, aids flexibility, stamina and even balance, and it works your heart and lungs, helping them stay healthy.

(9) Before retirement how many of us were able to implement essential changes to our lives that we knew would make us feel better and perhaps live even longer, but which required concentration, dedication and that most precious of all commodities – time? The honest answer is that few people have the time when they are working and meeting the monthly mortgage etc., to allocate any time to themselves. But retirement is all about you now! It is your time in life. You have raised a family and/or put years of your life into a job and a profession, you have paid your taxes and saved your money, you have dedicated years of service to other things and other people. And so now, the time that you have is your time. And it is time for you to implement the 4 key changes to your life that could extend your life by up to 14 years! The 4 key changes are – stop smoking, cut your alcohol intake, develop consistently healthy eating habits and take up regular exercise. Researchers at Cambridge University in England have shown that adopting these 4 goals and winning the healthy lifestyle battle can add up to 14 years to your life expectancy.

(10) The final top tip for international retirees is that dog owners live longer! In many nations in the world pet ownership is a luxury that families cannot afford – which is why in Central American nations, Mediterranean countries and across Asia for example, (all popular destinations for Western retirees seeking a better life), dogs and cats are stray animals roaming free and fending for themselves. Many expatriates want to do their bit to support and improve the new community they live in, and one of the most popular ways adopted is taking in and taking on a stray and sorry-for-itself animal. The good news is that according to research from Queens University in Ireland, dog ownership can encourage better health and a longer life. So, my final tip for you if you want to avoid bad age days is take in a stray dog! Not only will you be doing your bit for the local community and for the hound in question, but you will be doing your bit for the improvement of your health! The research from Ireland proves that dog owners are healthier because they get more exercise and therefore have lower blood pressure and cholesterol. What is more, having a dog can lead to an increase in social interaction which is good for our mental wellbeing, and regularly stroking a dog and enjoying their loving and loyal company can reduce stress levels.

In Conclusion ...

There are many easy ways we can improve the quality of our lives and the health and wellbeing we enjoy. In retirement when we have more time to dedicate to ourselves we should make it part of our everyday life to do that little something that will improve the way we feel. It is your life – so go on and enjoy living it! Don’t let a bad age day catch up with you and leave you feeling low! Having taken the positive and bold decision to retire overseas and see more of the world, why not also take the positive and bold decision to get the very most out of every single day.

Read the source article.


Kathleen Peddicord, founder of the Live and Invest Overseas, and author of recently released How To Retire Overseas – Everything You Need To Know To Live Well Abroad For Less, authored this short article appearing in U.S. News & World Report. Another in a growing line of articles we have posted in these pages on how cheap it is to live in Latin America. That it appeared in a mainstream publication is evidence of sorts on how the idea of expatriating is moving from fringe to conventional wisdom.

Jason and Elizabeth Pearce moved from Canada to Belize three years ago. They bought a piece of property on the sea. A year later, they built a house. Today, they live in a beautiful Santa Fe adobe-style home with gardens all around.

The pair lives very comfortably, without wants or financial worries. They have had no trouble making friends in their new community because the folks in Belize speak English. They eat out three or four times a week. They barbecue lobster and filet mignon at home. They have reliable Internet to keep them connected to the outside world. By choice, they do not have a television. “I used to think that the news was important,” Jason explains. “But not anymore.” The retired couple has a maid and a gardener, each of whom visit once a week.

And here is the best part. Jason and his wife are living on their Social Security income alone. In fact, they are living on Jason’s Social Security income alone. Elizabeth’s Social Security check goes into savings each month.

Everyone’s spending habits are different, but here is a sample monthly budget for a couple living a comfortable expatriate lifestyle in Belize: One of the most appealing things about Belize as an overseas retirement choice is that it can make sense even if you’re nowhere near conventional retirement age. Through Belize’s Qualified Retired Persons program you can establish foreign residency as young as age 40.

Belize is a beautiful little country. It is a peaceful, eco-tourist retreat home to more than 540 species of birds, 4,000 species of flowering plants, and 700 kinds of trees. Nearly 40 percent of the country is protected as parkland and natural preserves. Belize boasts the second-largest barrier reef in the world. This incredible underwater resource teems with colorful fish, coral, and unusual marine life, making the waters off this country's coast a fisherman’s and diver’s paradise.

Despite all these natural attractions, Belize has managed to remain largely off the world’s radar. It is a small country of about 350,000 people. It is also a young country, having gained independence from Great Britain in 1981. There are a lot of market niches waiting to be filled. Living here, you’ll discover that life can be not only super affordable, comfortable, and adventure-filled, but also full of potential.

Retirees in Belize are finding many interesting and sometimes lucrative ways to fill their days. Lara Lennon moved to Belize from Philadelphia in 2006 and developed a luxury swimwear line, Lemon Crush Belize. “Sitting on a friend’s porch in San Pedro chatting about this and that in our tropical lives, I realized something: There existed nowhere in Belize a place to shop for dress bathing suits, the kind glamorous enough for a beach wedding or special enough for a honeymoon,” Lennon says.

Lara’s swimwear is now featured in luxury boutiques in Belize and internationally. Starting a business takes drive and determination, Lara admits, but she has found the experience in Belize rewarding. “Best of all, I’m right where I want to be – with my friends on a Caribbean island, enjoying life,” Lennon says. “Only now in better bathing suits.”

Read the source article.


An implausible Pleasantville.

International Living’s Panama editor, Jessica Ramesch, posted this entry. reflecting how Panama City’s Ancon sector, formerly part of the Canal Zone, could have been from a set used in Pleasantville. “[U]nlike downtown Panama City, these neighborhoods have changed slowly ... and this lends to the small-town feel.”

Ancon, Panama CityToday I am driving from what looks like small-town USA to an island paradise. But I am in Panama City’s Ancon sector, heading out to the area known as the Amador causeway. It is a five-minute drive during rush hour.

Take a look at the video I shot.

It is nearly sunset, my favorite time of day to come here. As I drive over the causeway, a land bridge that connects three tiny islands, I roll down the windows. Cyclists pass me, streaks of neon against the pinkish sky. They disappear down the palm-lined strip, surrounded by rocky shores and soothing blue waters.

The breeze here is reliable 365 days a year, and everyone is enjoying it. Walkers are walking, joggers are jogging, puppies are straining at their leashes. It is the very picture of perfection – an implausible Pleasantville. People are eating ice-cream and smiling at each other (who does that anymore?).

I park in a lot next to what will soon be Panama’s biodiversity museum. As I trot past the site, I note the Bridge of Life building, as it is called, is really taking shape. All angles, it looks like the Mad Hatter conceived it. Architecture lovers will recognize the unique style of the world-famous Frank Gehry.

His buildings are enough to give tourism in any country a jump-start, and this is his only project in Latin America. A rendering of the finished project shows the color scheme will be just as outrageous as the design. I cannot wait to see it from the city, a splashy beacon across the water.

After finishing my evening constitutional, I stop at one of the outdoor cafes and order a fresh juice to go. You can have nearly any fruit imaginable transformed into an icy drink. Like many places in Panama, they have papaya, passion fruit, mango, bananas and more on hand. Getting back in my car, the Amador area slowly begins to melt into the adjacent neighborhood of Balboa (not to be confused with Balboa Avenue, which is downtown).

It is hard to believe I am in Panama City. I feel like I am miles away. Norman Rockwell could have painted the street corners here, complete with peeling Coca-Cola ads on the side of the local store. Watching passersby, I marvel at the eclectic mix ... some banter in English, others chatter away in Spanish, but they all seem completely at home.

Visiting this area, it is not hard to see that it was once a part of the U.S. militarized Panama Canal Zone. It all looks much the way it did when it was part of la zona ... neat rows of similar houses, wide avenues, and shocks of green everywhere. Many of the homes have been painted and renovated, but you can usually spy the original architecture, known as American Colonial, underneath it all.

There is still a large U.S. population here ... from young students going to Florida State’s satellite campus, to recently transplanted retirees, to the old-timers known as “zonians.” These former Canal Zone employees—many of whom lived their whole lives in Panama – chose to stay after the U.S. closed its bases here.

The old Masonic temple is now a modern art museum. The old wooden cinema building is now home to the Ancon Players, who perform live theater in English. The dilapidated Balboa Theater hosts Spanish-language plays in addition to musicians from all over the world. But unlike downtown Panama City, these neighborhoods have changed slowly ... and this lends to the small-town feel.

Read the source article.


Ample opportunity for anyone looking for a crowd-free, low-stress, low-cost place to do live and business.

Yesterday I wrote to you about Sophia Antipolis, a beautiful place in the South of France that’s just about perfect for expats with families who do not want to make any compromises ... what I call the “Internationalists” from the 7 expat categories.

Laos Today I want to tell you about another French-influenced place that is great for “pioneers” and “expedtioners” who are opportunity-focused but not concerned about being in a developing country. I am talking about Laos, and the capital city of Vientiane in particular.

Vientiane definitely has a lot of French influence ... like Beirut, New Orleans, Shanghai, and Buenos Aires, there are French elements in the architecture, cuisine, and local culture. Unlike those other cities, however, most people have never heard of Vientiane. This is why I want to bring it to your attention.

Several of the key ingredients to prosper in the long run ...

Given the recent boom that has occurred in parts of Southeast Asia, most notably Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia, I think Laos has several of the key ingredients to prosper in the long run.

First of all, it is already one of the poorest countries in the world. To give you an idea, the top tax bracket in Laos applies to people who make more than $1,800 per year.

It is hard (though not impossible) for a country to head anywhere but up when it is sitting at rock bottom. But what really sets Laos apart from other cheap countries is that it is home to massive amounts of the world’s most valuable resource.

No, I am not talking about oil and gas, or gold for that matter. I am talking about the stuff we all need to survive – food. Laos is covered with nutrient-rich arable land that is among the most productive on earth ... yet only a small percentage of it has been industrialized and cultivated.

I am a strong believer that the growing world population will increase global demand for food, especially in major Asian population centers. This spells rising food prices. Laos is well-positioned to capitalize on that trend because of the combination of low costs and high yields.

Consequently, it will not be long before both Chinese and western companies start leasing and developing large tracts of land there to cultivate agricultural products. In my experience, anytime foreign companies enter a new market, it creates tremendous opportunities for local entrepreneurs who can facilitate business services.

A one-party Politburo runs the country, but the bureaucrats are fairly hands-off with foreign companies that create jobs in the country.

So what is it like being in Laos? Well, as the only landlocked nation in Southeast Asia, Laos is not a place to go looking for beautiful beach resorts ... but you will find 5-star hotels, inexpensive guesthouses, and everything in between.

For businesses, it is a far cry from the tax nightmares and rising costs in other, more developed countries. Although a one-party Politburo runs the country’s socialist political platform, the bureaucrats are fairly hands-off with foreign companies that create jobs in the country.

They realized years ago that the only way to prosperity was loosening restrictions and adopting a more market-oriented economy. They are in the middle of that transition right now.

I think there is ample opportunity in Laos for anyone looking for a crowd-free, low-stress, low-cost place to do live and business. Vientiane would make a great spot to retire, open up a small restaurant or bar, get into the tourism business, or just lay low for a couple years.

The city sits on a bend of the Mekong river, literally a stone’s throw over the water from Thailand. Vientiane is a cozy little town with unbelievable food and a pleasant, laid-back expat atmosphere. It is distinguished by beautiful Buddhist temples, traditional monasteries, and French colonial architecture.

Vientiane is cheap too. Imagine eating an impressive 3-course French dinner (with wine) at one of the city’s finest restaurants for less than $20. You can also rent a luxury serviced apartment for only $1,200 per month.

One evening on my last visit to Vientiane, I ducked into a comfortable expat-owned pub that was brimming with locals and travelers alike. Sitting at the bar, I met a friendly Australian woman who turned out to be the owner; she had been in Laos for eight years and absolutely loved her new home and business.

There are hundreds of small foreigner-owned establishments like hers in Vientiane – restaurants, pubs, hostels, and tourism businesses. And as she told me, police officers and government cronies are actually a very rare sight.

With so much available at an incredibly low cost, it makes for a great getaway for expatriates who need an escape from the hustle and bustle. Given the future opportunities that I expect, it is a solid destination to plant a business flag or start a new life abroad.

Read the source article.


The writer here loves South America no end. But after spending a year there, he has a list of items he is looking forward to not dealing with any more. You might do some introspection and check out how you would feel about dealing with these things forever, which you would if you moved there. Some of the itemized grudges do not really apply to permanent residents; others do. At least be prepared for some culture shock.

I love South America, it has a vibrancy to it that I have never felt before. It has a way of taking hold of you, and pushing you to places you never imagined you would go. I have now spent a year wandering its cities, jungles, and mountains, and although there are a thousand things I will miss, there are only 10 things that I will not.

1. Speed Bumps
I understand the concept of speed bumps, they slow vehicles down in areas where vehicles should be traveling at a slow, cautious pace (places such as playgrounds, schools, and busy residential areas). But this concept only really works if people actually slow down for them. In South America, in particular Ecuador and Colombia, the roads are studded with speed bumps every 150 or so meters. The drivers find every means of getting around the bumps without actually bumping, or slowing down. And the drivers that do slow down only do so at the last minute with a heavy foot to the break; then as soon as the front tires are past the bump the heavy foot switches to the gas sending the back end, along with anyone sitting in the back seat, flying up into the air. Listen South America, you have millions of police officers on the street, if they enforced a ticket instead of taking a bribe, maybe there would be no need for the bone rattling speed bumps that have become the bane of my existence.

2. Being scared of lettuce
The Lettuce in Latin America is rarely cleaned, and if it is cleaned it is cleaned with water from the sink which can be laden with bacteria and parasites (with the exception of Chilean water which is generally clean). Lettuce cannot be peeled and, thus, must either be washed properly or avoided. Whenever a sandwich comes out one should peel the lettuce right off the bread and leave it on the side of your plate. In South America, lettuce can be more than a little bit dangerous; lettuce can be evil.

3. Bus rides
I have been in South America for 365 days as of today, one year. On average I have been on a bus every 2.15 days; which means I have spent 170 days at least partially on a bus. The average time I spend on the bus is 5.6 hours. Which means that this past year I have spent 952 hours on various buses from Colombia to Argentina. That is nearly 40 complete 24 hour days. That is over a month that I have spent staring out of a bus window at a world as if I was caged. It is true that I do not mind bus rides, you can sit and watch the world go by, but they do start to get old. It just takes one read of The Colombian Rodeo: Buses in South America to understand the two sides of the battle with buses; but I have to admit, I will enjoy spending sometime free off their wheels.

4. Restaurant food
It is not the food, not at all. What I am not going to miss is the process that is involved going to restaurants. Especially in Latin America there are not a whole lot of options for fast service. You end up spending at least an hour waiting for nearly every meaL: breakfast, lunch, and supper. The process is so nauseating at times I have skipped meals just so that I will not have to deal with it. I am really looking forward to a time where I can just reach into my fridge and pull out a couple slices of meat, some cheese, and some veggies, then attach it to some bread with some mayo and have a sandwich in 5-10 minutes. The time involved in waiting in restaurants combined with my time in buses does not leave much free time for other things.

5. Toilets without toilet seats
I am not sure why they do this in Latin America, but quite often I have encountered perfectly put together toilets that are lacking the lid and seat. I have my ideas for the reasons, they do not want people using them to drop a deuce, for one, or maybe it is because they want to give men with a wayward hose a bigger bull’s eye to aim at. To any extent, men may have found the perfect excuse as to why they haven’t put the seat down: There isn’t one.

6. Being treated as a dollar sign
I think that this has probably happened everywhere I have traveled, so maybe it is not a complaint against South America, but tourist destinations in general. But anyone who has ever tried to walk through the famous plaza in Cusco, Peru without being hassled has failed miserably. They approach you in turn selling everything from massages to Inca-dressed finger puppets. “No” has never been accepted as an answer in Cusco either. Generally the follow-up answer to no is “Why not?” Even if you say you don’t have any money, they will gladly show you where the nearest ATM is located. Truth be told, I am not sure that there is an answer they would take and leave peacefully with.

7. Slow Internet
With the Exception of Chile, the internet is embarrassingly slow everywhere I go. I understand that the internet might not be up to the same capabilities as we have in North America, but I just want to put a couple pictures up on Facebook, I should not have to shrink them. Also, I love my sports, and love streaming them live online. But this is in possible, and instead my sports events look more like robotic basketball.

8. Lack of hockey, or anything non-soccer related
Other than the Olympic gold medal game – do I need to remind the Americans how it went – I have not heard, seen, or read a word about hockey. I knew how to skate before I knew the difference between your and you’re, it is in my blood. Please give me my hockey back!

9. Where’s my Guinness??
I love a nice pint of beer, any kind really. But nothing beats a nice pint of that black magic poured properly right out of the tap. In South America lagers are a plenty, but any dark beer tends to have a nutty or sweet taste. I need a Guinness please!

10. I need proper cheese please!
In our supermarkets back home there are aisles just for dairy products. They are lined with cheese of all kinds. In South America, your choice of cheese is narrowed down to cheese in a package or cheese that has been sitting out. The white spongy cheese tastes like rubber, and I will never miss that.

Read the source article.


Closer to heaven than anyplace you have ever been.

Carter Clews is apparently serious about having us join him in his new home town in Honduras. A reader requested that he let people know about nice places to stay while they search for permanent digs, and the first place he writes about is a lodge within (rigorous) walking distance of his Honduras house – The Lodge at Pico Bonito.

A look at the Lodge’s website indicates the place is not undiscovered, having received favorable press from New York Magazine and Conde Nast Traveler. The cheapest rates are on the order of US$200/day in the off-season, May 1 to December 20. So it is an expensive place to live while you look around as well.

As we enjoy a tete-a-tete,
To some exquisite chansonette,
Two hands are sure to slyly meet beneath a serviette,
With cocktails for two.

~~ Spike Jones, Cocktails for Two

Normally, I devote Clews’ Views to Caribbean cities and villages, residential resorts and “Boomertowns” where I think you might want to live. They are Latin American locales where I believe you can live on less – and enjoy it more – than just about anywhere else on the face of God’s good earth.

Then, yesterday, I received a letter from a reader asking if I would write an occasional column about places where she and others might want to visit while they were deciding where they may want to live. And, I think that makes perfect sense. So, I am going to do it, starting with this column, about a vista for visitors that may, literally, be closer to heaven than anyplace you have ever been.

In fact, it may well just be the pluperfect “secluded rendezvous.” And amazingly enough, it is within walking distance of my own country cottage in tiny El Pino, Honduras. Not easy walking distance, mind you – because it is nestled high up in the mountainside. But, walking distance nonetheless.

Let me tell you about it. And then, if you are a young couple eager to sneak away for a passionate embrace (or two) ... an older couple longing to escape the hustle and bustle for a romantic interlude ... or even an occasional loner like me who simply likes the idyllic escape of curling up with your favorite novel and leafing your way to a nether world – this secluded rendezvous may have been made with you in mind.

Lodge at Pico Bonito grounds The Lodge at Pico Bonito is ensconced (as the name implies) amidst the plush plumage and rolling rivers of Pico Bonito Mountain, the majestic 8,000 foot Edenic edifice rising above the Honduran terrain. You take a long and winding country road to get to the Lodge (I walked, you will ride). And with every passing and pulsating moment, you realize anew that these pristine, heavenly hills truly are “alive with the sound of music.”

Birds sing, crickets chirp – off to your left a monkey howls; to your right, a parrot caws. Brightly colored Monarchs, Mariposas, Metalmarks, and delicate Lycaenids flitter to and fro, as you pass the Pico Bonito Butterfly Farm. On an overhanging rock, an iguana stares down with veiled gaze; in the crevice below, a wide-eyed kinkajou (tiny honey bear) scurries off into the undergrowth.

And remember, we are still only on our way up the hill to the waiting Lodge!

Lodge at Pico Bonito The Pico Bonito Lodge itself is what I call “Rustic Luxury” – true, it is a “log cabin,” of sorts, but with all of the modern appointments and amenities that tell you at a glance this is not meant for backpackers. Its portal’s polished timber pillars lend the entry a stately air. Crystal clear floor-to-ceiling windows give you a glimpse of a specious interior with all of the creature comforts anticipating your arrival.

A walk through the meticulously furnished lobby informs you that the owners have spared no expense on accommodations, while keeping it sufficiently discreet to seamlessly blend with the surrounding flora and fauna. Turn to your left at the lobby’s egress, and you enter a cozy paneled restaurant, tables attired in linens, a mahogany bar overlooking the surrounding rainforest.

I cannot comment on the food at this time, because I have not yet dined in the Lodge. I do know that the restaurant offers an extensive Meso-American cuisine featuring delicacies ranging from fresh north coast seafood to steak medallions in chocolate sauce. Prices range from $15.00 for lunch to $30.00 for dinner, with bountiful snack trays for six to eight dollars.

And I also know that the chocolate is to die for. How do I know that? Well, as the gracious Lodge Manager, Ivonne Acosta, informed me, it is freshly harvested daily from towering chocolate trees copiously gracing the Lodge grounds.

(Now, here, I have a parenthetical admission to make: I hadn’t the slightest idea in the world that chocolate grew on trees until Sra. Acosta showed me the pods dangling down. Yes, that is right, chocolate pods. I don’t know where I thought chocolate actually came from – Willie Wonka’s factory, I suppose – but never in my life did I think it grew on trees. I knew money did – but chocolate? Never even crossed my mind. Okay, meanwhile, back at the Lodge ...)

The cabins at the Pico Bonito getaway are in keeping with the Lodge and its environs. They are certainly not what one would describe as opulent (about the size of large master bedroom with bath), but they are enticingly arranged, and beautifully appointed. When you turn the key in the polished wood door, do not expect the Waldorf Astoria. But, then, you are, after all, staying in the woods – “lovely, dark, and deep” – and the setting bespeaks your surroundings.

And that is as it should be. Because it is the rain forest ambiance that defines this delightfully serene and surreal getaway. And it is that ambiance you will luxuriate in for your entire stay – whether sitting by the pool surrounded by wildlife, hiking through the woods, or swimming in the crystal clear mountain waters beneath a 50-foot waterfall.

In fact, as long-time Pico Bonito Lodge manager, Jim Adams, explains, you may find yourself swimming in the crystal clear waters of two Unbelievable Falls. No, that is not hyperbole; it is their name. The Unbelievable Falls is actually a cascading 60 to 70 foot double falls buried deep within the Pico Bonito rain forest, about a two hour’s hike from the Lodge.

Cotinga The hike to Unbelievable Falls is just one of four trail excursions the Lodge offers its visitors, each conducted by Jim, or one of his well-informed nature guides. In addition to the hike up to the double falls, there is the “that’ll-do-it” 15-minute hike (for those of us who consider a walk through the local city park pretty much the extent of our outdoor adventures), the loop hikes up to Mermaid Falls and the Rio Coloradito rapids, and the 8-hour sojourn 4,000 feet up Pico Bonito to where the rain clouds begin to envelop the peak. This latter one, Jim concedes, is “not for everyone” (to put it mildly).

All of them are, however, for avid birdwatchers, who come from the world over to study the more than 400 species of exotic birds gracing the Lodge grounds and surrounding forests. Birds as rare as the keel-billed motmot and the lovely cotinga make Pico Bonito their home. As do the elusive great potoos. Not to mention a plethora of black-cowled orioles, white-collared manakins, and other more common, though no less colorful, species, whose colorful plumage adorn the trees around the Lodge’s spacious porch. .

I said at the outset that the Lodge at Pico Bonito is some “secluded rendezvous.” That, indeed, it is. And that is why I urge you to leave behind the headaches and hassles of the work-a-day world, the hurries and worries of everyday life, and make your way to this Edenesque escape.

Rendezvous there with nature. Rendezvous with those you love and long to hold. Rendezvous with a good book or writing pad. But, most of all, rendezvous with your own soul. For at Pico Bonito, you are as near to heaven as the God who created it.

Read the source article.


A personal case study on the costs, availability and quality of health care in Argentina.

The writer here needed a hernia operation. By his count, all pre-op tests, surgery, overnight at the clinic, prescriptions, everything, was just about $1,260.00 US. He figures it would have cost 10 times that in the U.S., or more. And the surgeon and other members of the medical profession he dealt with? His surgeon was trained in the U.S. The doctors in Argentina do not have “omnipotence syndrome” – “they are friendly, approachable and human.” This and everything else in his experience indicates that the culture around health care there is vastly saner than in the U.S. medical mill.

A major concern for many potential expats is what kind of health care is available in the prospective country being considered for relocation. We have all been told about those “quacks” and “snake oil salesmen” who set up shop south of the border so they can bilk the unsuspecting of their monies. Of course, the label “Third World” is thrown around liberally and gives the impression that health care in those developing countries is not only sub-standard, but risky and possibly life-threatening.

Thanks to the omnipotent mainstream media and their unquestionable integrity, most Americans “know” there is no cure for cancer or any other life threatening disease. The Hoxey clinic and the Gerson institute that have set up shop in other countries have enjoyed success rates of over 90% for people diagnosed with a terminal condition. But of course, big pharma and the allopathic medical community would themselves suffer a terminal condition if the alternative methodology utilized by these so-called “charlatans” was to gain recognition and acceptance. As a result, most Americans are wary of having to leave the systems they are familiar with and seek treatment elsewhere because of fear of the unknown. Read on. You might find out why.

What follows is my personal case study on the costs, availability and quality of health care in Argentina.

As I approach my retirement years, I have become aware of the changes the body goes through. For men with an active lifestyle, hernia operations are fairly commonplace but still not something one looks forward to. I started to notice my lower abdominal “bulges” about 2-3 months before I left the States. As many others do, I put off the issue figuring I would get around to it when it became uncomfortable. Well, the day came when after cutting firewood I began to experience discomfort and realized that it was time to address the issue.

After talking to a friend who had undergone the procedure two years previously, I was given the telephone number of an English speaking surgeon who specialized in hernia operations. It was Friday afternoon at around 1:00 when I called Dr. Hugo’s number and ... he answered! No, I did not get his secretary or receptionist, I spoke directly to him! Whoa! Actually talking to a doctor on the phone! He told me to come to his office at 6:00 that same evening and he would take a look at me.

I arrived at his office on time, paid the receptionist 60 pesos (about $15 US), and sat down to wait until I was called. As I sat, I looked around and noticed that this was not a fancy chrome, glass and steel place of medical worship. I surmised that at one time it was likely to have been a small hotel that had been renovated into a two story medical office building with about eight or nine different doctors’ offices. I also noticed that there was a blood lab on site. I had only been waiting for about five minutes when Dr. Hugo called my name. A smile and a handshake later we sat down in his modest office. He explained the procedure and instructed me as to where to go to have my blood-work, chest X-ray, ECG and consultation with the anesthetist. He wrote down each needed procedure and provided the address and time to go on separate pieces of personalized note paper, each to be presented at the office where each of the procedures were to be performed. I suppose you could call them “prescriptions” but they were nothing more than notes of what he needed done and where to go to get them done. After about a half an hour I was on my way with my surgery scheduled for one week later.

Monday morning at eight I went to the lab to have my blood drawn. I did have to wait for about 10 minutes, as I was the first to arrive for my blood work and the lab tech had to set up shop. I was told to return the next day to collect the results. By 8:30 I was on my way to the radiologist for a chest X-ray.

I arrived at the radiologist’s office at my appointed time of 9:00. I paid my 50 pesos (about $13 US), but did have to wait for about 20 minutes for them to call my name. Once summoned, I was directed to the X-ray room, removed my shirt, had my X-ray taken and went back to the waiting room. Ten minutes later the radiologist came out and handed me my X-ray. That is right. After all, I paid for it and it is mine. No, they do not send it away to another office or anywhere else for that matter. They give it to YOU. It’s YOURS. Wow. What a concept!

By 9:40 I was done and on my way home for the day.

Tuesday I went back to the lab to get the results for my blood work. I paid 100 pesos (about $25 US), and they handed me the report. Again, I am in shock. Putting these vital medical reports into the hands of the person who paid for them! You tell me when that happens in the U.S.!

That evening I was to have my heart checked with an electrocardiogram. Again, I arrived on time but this time I had to wait for about a half an hour. Once called, I went into the doctors office, paid 95 pesos (about $24 US) and had my ECG. You guessed it. He handed me the results!

So here I am, having paid a whopping $62 U.S., and I have my blood-work report, chest X-ray and ECG in MY hands! Blasphemy!!!

The next requirement was to meet with the anesthesiologist to discuss my medical history, which is standard operating procedure as with any pre-op information gathering.

I did have to wait for nearly 1½ hours to have my name called but found out later it was because the receptionist has written my name down on the wrong doctors appointment list. If I had questioned the wait earlier I would not have been kept waiting so long. The cost for this consultation was 50 pesos (about $13 US). The anesthetist quoted me a fee but because I was paying cash he was prepared to reduce this by about 10%.

My final requirement was to go to the hospital where my surgery was scheduled to be performed and pay the necessary charges for the hospital room and procedures involved.

The total was 4,515 pesos ($1,150 US) (By the way, if you are keeping a running tab on the expenditures, you should be at $1,240 US dollars.)

Now came the big day. I arrived at the clinic Friday morning at 8 AM and was checked in by 8:30. (Remember, I had made my first call to Dr. Hugo the previous Friday at 1PM). So here I am, one week to the day from my first contact, going in to have my surgery. I was taken to my room and given a hospital gown to wear. As I looked around, I noticed there were no medical devices built into the walls, no oxygen, monitors or any of the equipment you might expect to see in a U.S. hospital, just a hospital bed, a chair, a locker and a TV on the wall. No worries. I really do not care about how much stuff they have on hand in the room. I just want to get my hernia taken care of. A nurse came in and performed the necessary task of an abdominal shave, standard preparation for this kind of procedure. About 20 minutes later an aide came by with a gurney to wheel me off to the operating room.

Dr. Hugo was there and explained that I would be given a sedative intravenously, and then a spinal epidural to eliminate any sensation below the waist. That done and with me in la-la land, he began the operation at around 10 o’clock. By 12:30 I was being wheeled back to my room.

I will say that pain management is not a high priority here in Argentina, and for the first few hours after regaining full consciousness, I was quite uncomfortable. I had been given a sedative through the I.V. in my arm, but it was not until about 5:30 when I was given a shot for pain. Luckily, a friend who is aware of the lack of pain management priorities arrived with some medication. (I should mention that most drugs and medications are available over the counter at most pharmacies. Antibiotics, antihistamines, pain meds are purchased just like aspirin or antacids. That is why I called the doctor’s prescription a “shopping list”.)

I spent one night at the clinic and was discharged the next morning at 10:00. Dr. Hugo had come to my room, looked me over, wrote me a “shopping list” for an antibiotic and pain meds and gave me the “thumbs-up” to leave and return home to my own bed to recuperate. My cost for the meds at the pharmacy was 80 pesos, (about $20 US).

Now, as I convalesce for a couple weeks, I look back at this experience and compare the vast differences in attitudes towards health care, and the costs involved. I kept a running total and the bottom line, all pre-op tests, surgery, overnight at the clinic, prescriptions, everything, was just about $1,260.00 US. No, I did not screw up my decimal point.

Having had a few runs with hospitals and doctors in the U.S., (and insurance companies), I think it is pretty safe to say that the same procedure in the U.S. would have cost at least ten times that amount, maybe more.

Granted, in the U.S. my hospital room would have had all the latest technology, oxygen in the wall, heart monitors and other beeping machines, not to mention a button to push when you felt you needed some pain medication (to the tune of God knows how much money per “push”). But let’s face it, chances are your co-pay for the lab tests and prescriptions alone might have approached my total expenditures. What do you think you would have paid for the surgery and hospital stay? How much are you paying for your health insurance? How inflated is the price you have to “co-pay”? (How much did they charge you for that aspirin at the hospital?)

I never realized the magnitude of the financial rape the American people are subjected to, and the extent of the conditioning the public, to not only accept, but to defend a health care system that is so unbelievably inflated. “America has the best health care system in the world” we are told. The question is, best for whom? Sure, we have all the latest gadgets and technology, but when it comes down to it, it is the doctor and his skill that determines health care, and from what I have seen, the doctors here are just as capable and in some cases more capable than U.S. physicians. In fact, Dr. Hugo studied in the U.S.!

So, the next time you are facing a looming physical condition and are hemming and hawing about when to get it done and how much you are going to pay for it, why not consider taking a couple of weeks to travel to another country that has been slammed or labeled by mainstream medicine and schedule your procedure. You just might have a new and enlightening experience, learn about a different culture, save a ton of money, and find out what Obama-“care”, Medi-“care” or any other U.$. “care” really mean$.

Oh, one final note. The doctors here do not suffer from “omnipotence syndrome” either, they are friendly, approachable and human.


Twelve days after my surgery, I became a bit concerned, as I had not been “regular” as I had always been. I had already considered the fact that my gut had been subjected to invasive procedures and it should be expected that it would take some time for the digestive system to get back into the swing of things. However, I was quite uncomfortable with the bloated feeling I was experiencing and I figured I would give Dr. Hugo a call. When he answered the phone I explained to him my concerns and he said a bout with constipation was to be expected. He told me he was scheduled to perform a surgery, but if I could make it over to the clinic within the next 15 minutes, he would have a look.

I happened to be in town at the time, so I made my way over to the clinic to find Dr. Hugo waiting for me in the lobby! Again, I am stunned. I did not have to check in, fill out forms and papers or sit around and wait. He beckoned to me to follow him down the hall to the examination room where he promptly gave me a quick look over, changed the dressing and explained that all appeared to be normal. “Here is a “prescription” for a laxative and another to have your abdomen x-rayed if you feel the need to, but I think you will find that you will start to loosen up in a couple of days.” There was no fee, charge or billing for my visit. In fact, I do not believe there was anyone who cared one way or the other that I had waltzed into the facility, been examined and tended to! How pleasantly un-American!!

Felling somewhat reassured but still uncomfortable, I stopped by the farmacia to purchase the laxative as prescribed and went home to let things take their course. Now two days after the fact, I am smiling as it appears as if everything is starting to come out fine. (Pun intended)

Yes, I will be taking it easy for a few more weeks, but am looking forward to getting back to the woodpile and rough-housing with the kids.

Health care in Argentina. I reported. You decide.

Read the source article.


“Right now we can confidently say that a seven-character password is hopelessly inadequate.”

The primary purpose of your PC’s graphics processing units (GPUs) is to render nice images on your monitor. The most powerful ones rend render highly complex scenes from computer games at a sufficient frequency (frames per second) to give the illusion of continuity.

Graphics rendering is an inherently parallel processing task, as each pixel on your monitor requires a separate calculation. Now this processing power is being lassoed and put to use in non-graphics problems. It is very well suited for brute force password cracking. High-end GPUs can process information at nearly two trillion floating-point operations per second (flops), compared with the seven trillion flops achieved by the world’s fastest supercomputer, costing $110 million, 10 years ago. Processing power has become extremely cheap in the last decade.

There are 62 characters available on your PC keyboard if you restrict passwords to upper and lower case letters and numbers. If special characters and spaces are allowed this goes up to 95. A 7-character password with all 95 characters available gives a total of about 70 trillion possible passwords. Without going into any fine points, one can see why such a password might not withstand a 2 trillion operations-per-second cracking assault for long.

So for protection worthy of the name you must at the very least increase your password lengths. Every character you add makes it exponentially harder to crack. For example, if an 8-character password with only the 62 alphanumeric character choices could be cracked in a minute, increasing the length to 11 extends the cracking period to almost 6 months – assuming you use truly random, linguistically nonsensical character combinations. If you use combinations of words from the dictionary, forget it. Those were quickly crackable even before the super-GPUs came along.

As high-end graphics processing units become increasingly widespread, basic passwords are no longer enough protection, say scientists.

The warning comes at a time when GPUs are increasingly used to calculate problems rather than simply process fast-moving graphics for computer games.

“We’ve been using a commonly available graphics processor to test the integrity of typical passwords,” said Richard Boyd, a senior research scientist at the Georgia Tech Research Institute. “Right now we can confidently say that a seven-character password is hopelessly inadequate – and as GPU power continues to go up every year, the threat will increase.”

According to the researchers, high-end GPUs can process information at nearly two teraflops – or two trillion floating-point operations per second – a figure that would have been unheard of in a personal computer a decade ago.

Back in 2000, the world’s fastest supercomputer, a cluster of linked machines costing $110 million, reached its performance peak at just over seven teraflops.

The researchers say GPUs are quick at code cracking because they are designed as parallel computers, with different cores of the processor working on several problems at once.

Brute force

When nVidia released a software development kit for its graphics cards, the company provided the tools for programmers to write directly to the GPU using C, bringing a host of new capabilities, including brute force attacks on passwords.

According to Georgia Tech research scientist Joshua Davis, brute force attacks no longer take a long time, especially if they involve short words consisting of lower case letters.

“Length is a major factor in protecting against brute forcing a password,” Davis explained. “A computer keyboard contains 95 characters, and every time you add another character, your protection goes up exponentially, by 95 times.”

Stronger passwords

Commercial operators in the security sector confirmed the Georgia Tech research, with some calling for so-called “strong authentication” that combines a user’s log in details with a one-time password generated on a hardware device, such as a mobile phone.

“Lots of people think that they have a solid password – over 12 characters long, including a combination of letters, numbers and cases to increase their strength,” said Christian Brindley, a technical manager with VeriSign Authentication. “However, passwords are simply not enough to protect sensitive information on their own.

“One method that has been proven to work is strong authentication, by a device such as a plastic token, credit card style device or even a mobile application,” he said. “Once a second factor of authentication is introduced, the risk of account sharing and hacking of password reset tools is all but removed at source.”

Read the source article.

How Much Smaller Can Chips Go?

Miraculous feats of engineering give PC-like power to smartphones.

Famed science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke’s third “law” of prediction is that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” That applies to the constant miniturization of integrated chip circuits – the technology behind the computing power discussed immediately above.

Can this constant miniturization continue, or will the laws of physics ultimately impose an insoluable barrier? Here the engineers from Intel have their say about that. Intel and other chip-makers plan to move to the 22nm process next year, vs. 32nm for Intel’s current smallest circuit size in production, and with 45nm still the standard in the industry. Intel’s public roadmaps only stretch as far as 16nm in 2013.

Read the article.


The Fundamentals of Farmland

“Sovereign Man” Simon Black thinks “that on an economic level, there is hardly a safer bet than agricultural land.” Some disjointed snippets:

On the demand side of the equation, one only needs to look at the world’s population explosion, especially in the developing world. These are people and cultures whose dietary habits will shift from vegetables and grains to resource-intensive meats. Their wallets and waistlines will get fatter together. ...

A few weeks ago I wrote about South American farmland, for example, that can be purchased for as little as $25/acre. This price point is not uncommon in the remote areas of Paraguay and Brazil. Frankly, 20 times that price would still be quite a bargain.

Even at higher prices, there are great deals to be had; for example, I have seen small homes with 5-10 acres of land in Paraguay and Ecuador selling for less than $39,000 – they are basically selling the house for the cost of construction and giving away the land for free. This is a deal by any standard. ...

For today, though, I simply want to plant a seed (ha) and get you thinking in this direction. Allocating a few thousand dollars of your savings to agricultural land somewhere outside of your home country is a simple, cost-effective no-brainer. In the end, you will have an escape hatch, a means of survival, and an excellent store of value.

Read the source article.

7 Ways to Make Life-Changing Decisions

Some of the changes we propose people make on this site are profound, like reconfiguring your finances. Some are “life-changing,” such as expatriating. Here are some tips for directing your decision process.

Most people do not know the profound effects of making decisions. Often times, we go through life oblivious to what thoughts we are thinking and what actions we are taking. Every single decision we make in our days shapes our current reality. It shapes who we are as a person because we habitually follow through with the decisions we make without even realizing it.

If you are unhappy with the results in your life right now, making the effort to changing your decisions starting today will be the key to creating the person you want to be and the life you want to have in the future. Let’s talk about a few ways you can go about making life-changing decisions.

Read the source article.

Intellectual Property: Please Download this Interview

Our laws and our expectations, and to some extent our moral judgments, are based on an old regime that existed for hundreds of years – the copyright system ... which is wholly inadequate to the current circumstances but has not changed yet.

In April we posted a piece which cited intellectual property, among other segments of the economy, which are wholly creations of whose existence is enforce by governments, and in no way reflections of how things would evolve in a purely voluntary exchange market. Here is an interview with an expert, Paul Rosenberg, on the subject of IP, who is a “friend and philosophical compatriot” of investor Doug Casey.

The bottom line is no one knows how things will play out. The new paradigm is not yet in sight, but it is written in the wind that the old publishing model will die off. “It will have to happen, because an Information Age without intellectual works is like an industrial age without machines,” says Rosenberg, later adding, “I would definitely say that I am not interested in owning any stock in any publishing companies.”

Read the article.

A Timely Reminder to Ensure Your PC is Fully Patched

You may have seen a news report this week about how cybercriminals managed to steal a total of around $1 million from thousands of accounts held by customers of a UK-based bank. If you did not, the full gory details are in a White Paper published by M86 Security, which you can read [here].

The people behind this attack were a highly organized gang, and they used some of the latest technology to pull off the crime. This included presenting customers with fake web pages in order to hide the fact that the Trojan installed on the user’s PC had made an additional withdrawal.

The crime was carried out by a hacking tool called the Eleonore Exploit Kit. ... Worryingly, hardly any of the well-known antivirus products managed to detect the attack, or the presence of the Eleonore trojans. ...

However good your antivirus software, or your firewall, the best way to protect your PC is to ensure that all software patches are installed. Not just Windows patches from Microsoft, but all application updates too.

So, your task for today. First, make sure that your PC is configured to download and install all Windows updates. You can do this from the control panel. Second, head over [here] and download the Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer, which will tell you if there are any important patches missing from your PC. Third, check all of the Adobe programs that you are running, and ensure that all patches and updates for them have been downloaded and installed. Finally, if you have got Java (not Javascript) installed, make sure you are running the latest version. It was bugs in old versions of Adobe Reader and the Java software that allowed the bank attack to succeed.

Read the source article.

WordPress 3 Released

Wordpress is the world’s most popular blogging platform, and is open source to boot. The platform’s recent major update puts still more power at the user’s fingertips. “Forget about buying Dreamweaver or hiring a web designer; with WordPress 3 you can almost certainly do it yourself,” concludes this reviewer.

WordPress is now seven years old and, with millions of active users, is widely recognized as the world’s most popular blogging platform. The latest release is the open source platform’s 13th major update and is crucial to WordPress’s ambitions to move on from its blog-based origins. ...

Once you are up-and-running, you manage your WordPress site via the new Dashboard. This is slightly lighter than it was before, and adds contextual help and a few scattered rationalisations. If you are an existing user who does not want to tamper with an existing site, these are probably the only differences that you will notice after upgrading.

If you are creating a new site or want to rework an existing one, however, WordPress 3 has a lot more to offer. The biggest change is that, after a full five years, the default Kubrick theme has finally been put out to pasture. The replacement, Twenty Ten, is a vast improvement offering attractive, clean lines, easy readability, a large header image and simple layout. Basically it does not look so “bloggy.” ...

One of the major criticisms of WordPress has been that all its sites look ugly and identical; now, with direct access to more powerful themes and easy customizability built right in to the Dashboard, the quality of end design should leap forward.

Read the complete review.

Online Web Page Template Generator Impresses

While on the subject of Web site design, here is another alternative to going at the project with hammer and tongs. You design your page layout online, then download the finished page. Download options include as a WordPress template, as well as your workaday HTML/CSS files.

If you want to create a web site, the first thing you need is a template. You can design it yourself, using HTML and CSS along with a copy of something like Dreamweaver. Or you can download a ready-made template from sites such as DemusDesign. But here is yet another alternative, and I happen to think it is really very clever indeed.

It is a Web-based web site template designer. Think of it as a free Web-based service that is a bit like running Dreamweaver.

The site in question is Cool Template. Once you visit the site, you will see the basic layout of a Web page in your browser, along with various menus. You can change the number of columns in the page you are designing, as well as the menus, the text, the colors, the position of content blocks, and just about everything else. When you are done, just click the Download button and choose whether you want your finished page downloaded as HTML/CSS files, a WordPress template, Microsoft asp.NET Master Pages, or a Joomla template. As I said, very clever indeed.

Read the source article.